Court Considers Fate of West Virginia Right-to-Work Law

Published September 22, 2016

A West Virginia county judge is considering a lawsuit that alleges the state’s right-to-work law violates labor unions’ legal entitlement to money earned by workers.

The lawsuit was filed in June 2016 by labor unions looking to overturn West Virginia’s right-to-work law, passed and signed into law in February. In July, 13th Judicial Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey temporarily suspended the law, which had taken effect in June, pending a final decision on the law’s constitutionality.

In September, court orders requesting documents were mailed to Vincent Trivelli and Robert Batress, two West Virginia attorneys representing the labor unions that brought suit.

No ‘Valid Argument’

Garrett Ballengee, executive director of the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy, says he predicts the law will ultimately be upheld.

“It seems extraordinarily unlikely that the unions have a valid argument here, from a legal perspective,” Ballengee said. “West Virginia’s workplace freedom law was written in a manner that was consistent with the 25 other states that have a right-to-work law in place. In all of those states where legal challenges have been offered, the validity of the right-to-work law was eventually upheld, so it seems doubtful the unions have much of a leg to stand on.”

Twisted Relationship

Ballengee says labor unions feel entitled to help themselves to other people’s money.

“The unions’ argument presupposes that a worker’s paycheck and ability to make a living are union property,” Ballengee said. “I think that strikes most of us as a rather abhorrent way of viewing the worker-union relationship.”

Ballengee says success in the lawsuit would benefit labor union leaders instead of the workers they represent.

“Union leadership may often have different priorities and agendas than the rank-and-file union membership, and this often leads to some moral clashes under a non-right-to-work legal environment,” Ballengee said. “For example, the United Mine Workers of America union endorsed then-candidate Barack Obama for president in 2008, despite Obama’s environmental agenda that helped contribute to a devastating economy in coal-heavy states such as West Virginia and Kentucky. Needless to say, the ordinary union membership was not terribly happy about the leadership’s decision to endorse Obama for president.”

Economic Benefits

John Deskins, an associate professor of economics at West Virginia University, says right-to-work laws benefit everybody in the state, not just workers.

“I suspect that the right-to-work policy makes a state more attractive to potential businesses, thereby bringing more economic activity and more jobs into a state, all else [being] equal,” Deskins said.