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Doesn’t everyone have a right to work? What the laws are about.
Doesn’t everyone have a right to work? What the laws are about.

The Hampton Roads Chamber is a premier pro-business organization serving the 757 business community. We are unapologetic about our pro-business advocacy efforts that target policies that strengthen free enterprise and set the conditions for businesses to succeed. Maintaining the “right-to-work” law is a policy we emphatically support because it strengthens our business community.

Virginia’s long-standing “right-to-work” law has fostered a pro-business environment by providing protections to workers that give them a choice. This statute has consistently made us one of the best states for business in the country. Within the Code of Virginia (§ 40.1-58), it is the policy of Virginia that “the right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in any labor union or labor organization.” The U.S. Supreme Court upheld this right in its 2007 Davenport v. Washington Education Association decision. The high court ruled that “unions have no constitutional entitlement to the fees of nonmember-employees.”

Additionally, in § 40.1-60, the Code of Virginia further protects workers by ensuring that, “An employer shall require no person to become or remain a member of any labor union or labor organization as a condition of employment or continuation of employment by such employer.”

The basic principle behind Virginia’s decades-old law is: No workers should be forced to join a union or pay union dues against their will as a condition of employment. No workers should be forced from their jobs because they are members of a union.

Unfortunately, there has been an effort to change Virginia’s law in the General Assembly. “Right-to-work” is a critical issue to Virginia’s business community and workers statewide. In our recent survey, the chamber found the No. 1 issue of importance to our members is the “right-to-work” law’s repeal.

Virginia ranked first on CNBC’s “Best States for Business” in 2019. Of the top 21 states on that list, 17 are “right-to-work” states. The status was awarded by analyzing all 50 states and ranking them based on more than 60 measures of competitiveness in 10 broad categories: workforce, economy, infrastructure, cost of doing business, quality of life, education, technology and innovation, business friendliness, access to capital, and cost of living. Each category was weighted according to how frequently states use them as a selling point in economic development marketing materials. “Right-to-work” status fell under “workforce” and helped push Virginia to the No. 1 ranking.

The Oxfam America report is commonly mentioned in opposition to maintaining the “right-to-work” law. This report ranks states on 11 policy areas comprising three main categories: wage policies, worker protection policies, and right-to-organize policies. The Oxfam report states that Virginia is the worst state for workers. It is in direct contrast to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ and CNBC’s comprehensive review of national metrics for ranking states’ competitive capabilities, which telegraphs high-ranking states’ success to secure the ability to compete nationally and internationally.

Since 2012, five additional states — Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, West Virginia, and Wisconsin — have adopted “right-to-work” laws, bringing the national total to 27. Most of the states the commonwealth is competing with for economic development are also “right-to-work” states. Virginia would lose a significant competitive advantage by repealing its law. Additionally, repeal of “right-to-work” laws would hurt workers by discouraging businesses from moving to the commonwealth and creating more jobs.

Those working to repeal “right-to-work” claim the following: these laws prohibit union activity, they do not protect the workers in these states, and the economies underperform under this law. These claims are false.

“Right-to-work” laws do not prohibit unions from organizing. Rather, they protect workers by making union dues, membership, and nonparticipation fees optional.

The National Labor Relations Act and other federal statutes protect workers’ rights and their ability to unionize regardless of a state’s “right-to-work” status. The Taft-Hartley Act allows states to protect workers’ choice by allowing states to make union participation optional without paying a fee for nonmembership.

According to a NERA Economic Consulting 2018 report, “right-to-work” laws have a positive impact on economic growth, employment, investment, and innovation. “Right-to-work” states do better than non-right-to-work states in terms of personal income growth and employment growth.

The chamber urges you to contact your state representatives at the General Assembly to ensure that the “right-to-work” law is not repealed. Virginia’s “Best State for Business” status depends on it.

Emily Hasty Reynolds
Executive Director, Government Affairs
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Home » Chamber Blog » Chamber Voices » Doesn’t everyone have a right to work? What the laws are about.
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