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WV Supreme Court Deals Deadly Blow to Labor; Right-to-Work, Prevailing Wage Repeal Loom

Republican Sue Cline sworn in, giving GOP an 18-16 State Senate advantage

Republican Sue Cline sworn in, giving GOP an 18-16 State Senate advantage

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On Friday, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that a Republican should fill a recently vacated State Senate seat, a move which will allow the GOP a 18-16 voting advantage and the ability to move forward with an ambitious agenda that includes “Right-to-Work” and a prevailing wage repeal. 

Sen. Daniel Hall was elected as a Democrat in 2012 but switched parties in 2014. Following his decision to resign, a legal battle began over which party should replace Hall. Democratic attorneys argued that state law was ambiguous about filling the seats of politicians who had switched parties.  The court decided that it was not.  A Democratic appointment would have deadlocked the Senate at 17-17 and likely halted much of the GOP’s agenda for the upcoming 60-day legislative session.  In her opinion, Justice Margaret Workman explained the high court’s decision:

”The Democrats’ interpretation of the law is profoundly strained and constitutes a misreading of statutory language that is clear in its meaning. The statute requires an appointment based on the person’s political party immediately preceding the vacancy.”

Democratic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin then appointed real estate agent Sue Cline, a Republican from Beckley, to fill the vacant seat.  The move gave Republicans an 18-16 majority in the state’s upper chamber.

Following her appointment, Sen. Cline said in a statement:

“Our task at hand now is to move forward, and to get to work to address our state’s troubled economy, our budget which is in crisis, and our workforce which is in critical need of a jump start. Without further distraction, we plan to get to work.”

With control of both chambers, the GOP should face far fewer hurdles to knocking back labor rights.  Unlike many other states, the constitution of West Virginia allows the legislature to override a gubernatorial veto by a simple majority.

West Virginia Republicans have made their “Right-to-Work” intentions pretty clear.  Last year, the party’s first House majority in 83 years was enough to partially repeal the state’s prevailing wage.  With the Supreme Court decision, conservative legislators can push freely for full repeal without a veto concerns.

SB 1, a “Right-to-Work” bill dubiously titled “The Workplace Freedom Act,” passed committee last Monday and the full Senate on a party line vote Thursday night.  In a statement following the bill’s passage, Josh Sword, Secretary-Treasurer of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, said:

“Clearly we have our work cut out for us.  Right-to-work laws are not just negative for union employees in West Virginia, but for all employees.  If West Virginia becomes a right-to-work state, wages will go down universally and workplace fatalities will go up.”


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