Garrett Ballengee, Terry Bowman: WV Can Make History with Right-to-Work
Originally appeared in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
West Virginia is used to making history. Since that fateful stroke of President Lincoln’s pen in April of 1863, West Virginians have written more than their fair share in America’s history books.
As the page turns to 2016, West Virginia is once again on the brink of making a noble change for freedom that will send ripples throughout the country.
West Virginia is ready to say “Yes!” to individual workers, “Yes!” to job providers, and “NO!” to tired, forced compulsory unionism. West Virginia needs workplace freedom.
According to figures by the Department of Labor, the special interest agendas and policies embraced by labor executives in our state are clearly hurting individual union workers and their families.
The West Virginia union membership rate in 2014 dropped drastically; 10.6 percent of the workforce from 12.7 percent in 2013.
Meanwhile, that same year the right-to-work state of Indiana added 50,000 union members tying for the state with the most new union members in 2014.
It is unlikely that you will hear that important statistic from labor leaders.
It doesn’t take much to find out why. A recent report shows that due to the policies of the Obama Administration, West Virginia’s workers have been devastated. Since 2009, 332 coal mines have closed resulting in the loss of over 9,700 jobs — roughly 35 percent of the coal industry’s total employment in the state.
Yet, through all of these damaging actions by the misguided Obama Administration, the United Mine Workers of America continues to funnel and spend workers’ dues in support of the very same political agenda that is plotting the demise of mining jobs in West Virginia.
A workplace freedom law in West Virginia would go a long way to holding union officials answerable and accountable to their workers. Those officials would simply have to sell their services to workers instead of forcing financial support.
Competition, instead of a monopoly, always makes organizations better and stronger. Unions are no different.
Unlike the questionable rhetoric you may be hearing from union executives now, a workplace freedom law does not change or affect collective bargaining in anyway.
Unions can and do organize and collectively bargain the same as they did before. The only difference is that the needs and concerns of the workers are placed first.
And that is exactly what unions were created to do in the first place. Workplace freedom refocuses unions back to their created purpose: representing workers on the job.
West Virginia simply cannot continue with the status quo if it is to grow its economy and improve the lives of its people.
According to a study conducted by West Virginia University, employment in right-to-work states grew at a rate nearly double that of non-right-to-work states from 1950-2014. Gross domestic product in right-to-work states also grew by a factor of 7.8 versus only 5.3 in non-right-to-work states during that same time period.
This type of growth is critical for West Virginia.
Now, to be clear, there is no silver bullet for West Virginia’s woes. West Virginia has a host of problems which will require a host of solutions, but workplace freedom is a necessary — though not sufficient — condition to put West Virginia on the right track.
It’s also worth noting that 25 other states have a “right-to-work” law on the books, with the first ones coming in the 1940s. Federal employees also have the ability to choose whether or not to join a union and pay dues, i.e., they have right-to-work protection.
West Virginia’s public school teachers also have right-to-work protection. While workplace freedom is new to many West Virginians, it is certainly not a new concept to millions of people across the United States and thousands of our fellow Mountaineers.
Change is a scary thing, and it’s important to recognize that fact. However, it’s also important to remember that change is required for progress to be made — and progress is something that West Virginia desperately needs.
Garrett Ballengee is executive director of the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy (www.cardinal institute.com). Terry Bowman was a United Auto Worker for 19 years and is president of Union Conservatives Inc. (www.unionconser vaties.com).