Now in the majority, Democrats in Va. take aim

Democrats in Virginia aren’t wasting time with their first statehouse majority in 26 years — by repealing the state’s 70-year-old right-to-work law that has helped the commonwealth thrive.

Twenty-seven states including Virginia have right-to-work laws that give workers a choice of whether to belong to a union. According to the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, the rate of job growth was two times higher in right-to-work states between 2008 and 2018 than in states where workers can be compelled to join unions or pay dues as a condition of employment.

This disparity is the result of a confluence of pro-growth policies including low taxes, but employers often cite right-to-work laws when deciding where to locate a new plant. Foreign automakers built factories in southern states largely because their right-to-work laws make it more difficult to conscript workers into unions.

Right to work has also made Northern Virginia more attractive to businesses compared to Maryland’s Washington, D.C., suburbs. Northern Virginia last year accounted for 70% of new jobs in the D.C. metro area. Only 4% of Virginia workers belong to unions compared to 11.3% in Maryland. The share of construction workers who are unionized is five times higher in Maryland than Virginia.

Progressives elected in last year’s statehouse sweep now hope to reward their labor supporters. Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw is driving legislation that would allow unions to require nonmembers to pay “fair share fees” to defray their costs for collective bargaining, organization and other “representation” activities.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision (2018) forbids governments from requiring public workers to pay such union fees but said nothing about private workers. Under the Virginia bill, workers could be required to subsidize unions regardless of whether they join. This would repeal right-to-work in all but name.

Playing coy, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam recently told a group of businesses that “I don’t want to do anything that would threaten our AAA bond rating or our status as the number one state for businesses ... such as repealing [Virginia’s] right-to-work law.” Don’t expect a veto.

Meantime, Democrats in the U.S. House are moving legislation to prohibit right-to-work laws nationwide. Liberals can’t abide laws in prosperous and growing states that make Illinois and New York look bad.