Virginia Voters to Consider Worker-Freedom Constitutional Amendment

Published October 5, 2016

Voters in Virginia will consider a ballot question in November asking for approval of a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would protect the state’s right-to-work law.

The ballot question asks voters to approve amending the state’s constitution to prohibit businesses from requiring membership in a labor union as a condition of employment. If the initiative passes, the amendment will be placed in the state’s constitution.

Virginia’s right-to-work law was enacted in 1947 and amended in 1970, but lawmakers are concerned government officials may seek to undermine the law by refusing to enforce it or defend it against legal challenges.

Proposed constitutional amendments in the state must be approved by lawmakers twice in two different years and then referred to voters for final approval.

‘Extremely Important’ to Virginia

The amendment’s original sponsor, state Del. Richard Bell (R-Staunton), says Virginia’s right-to-work law is a key to the state’s prosperity.

The right-to-work statute that we currently have is extremely important to us in Virginia,” Bell said. “In my time in the legislature, the folks we talked to with business interests who consider relocating, most of them are anxious to relocate from union-controlled states. The right to work is very important to them.”

Bell says the right-to-work law is too important to leave in the hands of politicians and government bureaucrats.

“The statute, while it’s a good thing, can be changed relatively easily, depending on who sits in the governor’s mansion and with a shift in the majorities in the legislature,” Bell said. “A constitutional amendment, which would enshrine the right to work in Virginia, is much more difficult to do away with.”

Lynn Taylor, president of the Virginia Institute for Public Policy, says lawmakers have been trying to return the state to union control for decades.

“Although we’ve had statutory right to work since 1947, the difficulty is that the opponents nibble around the edges, trying to make changes with a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” Taylor said.