Virginia, Tennessee fight for bargaining, union rights

Posted Feb. 12, 2020 by

Virginia: Fight for public bargaining moves forward, while 'right to work' repeal fizzles out

It was a mixed bag for union activists in Virginia this week in their legislative fights to empower workers with collective might and build union rights. While a bill to restore collective bargaining for public employees is moving forward, an attempt to repeal the state's harmful 72-year "Right-to-Work" law was stopped dead in tracks despite momentum in recent weeks. Read more...

In a huge victory for public employees, a bill to return the freedom of collective bargaining rights to Virginia state employees passed the Virginia House of Delegates. Virginia is one of only three states--along with North Carolina and South Carolina--to explicitly prohibit all public service workers from bargaining collectively.

The push to expand collective bargaining rights for Virginia’s public employees follows on the heels of major victories for public service workers in Nevada and Delaware. AFSCME says restoring collective bargaining would mean "a voice for public workers to strengthen their profession" and ensure smooth and effective public services in Virginia.

In the same breathe, Virginia union activists suffered a setback this week in their attempt to repeal the state's 1940's era "Right to Work" law. The union-backed bill, known as the 'freeloaders law," failed to make it through the Democrat-led House despite momentum in recent weeks.

In a concerning turn of events, the bill fizzled out after an appropriations committee failed to put the vote on the schedule after "reports" that the repeal would cost the state millions of dollars. It has been reported that the cost estimates were largely influenced by polling of CEOs and consultants, who profit off of Right to Work. It didn't help that the current Democratic governor called the repeal "unrealistic."

“Looking back at how right to work has disenfranchised the working class of Virginia since 1947, and knowing its disgraceful, historical origin, we would’ve hoped the state would move in the right direction,” said Virginia AFL-CIO Pres. Doris Crouse-Mays. Activists behind the repeal vow to continue the fight, including at the ballot box.

Tennessee: Anti-union legislators want to enshrine RTW in state constitution

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, union activists are fighting a battle of their own. A resolution in favor of an amendment to "enshrine right-to-work protections" in the state constitution sailed through the Tennessee Senate this week. Tennessee joined Virginia as two of the earliest states to adopt right-to-work laws more than 70 years ago.

"Enshrining our state's Right to Work law in the constitution is a complete waste of time and money and does nothing except keep wages low and make it more difficult for hardworking Tennesseans to get ahead," said Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council Pres. Billy Dycus.

Last time we checked, constitutions were designed to protect rights, not take them away; but Tennessee lawmakers are going through every avenue to silence workers' voices on the job and advocate for employers.