Virginians will have more than just their next president to consider when heading to the ballots next Tuesday.
On Nov. 8, Virginia residents will vote on a proposed amendment that would put the provisions of Virginia’s right-to-work law into the state constitution.
The right-to-work law gives employees the right to work without being required or compelled to join a union. Virginia has had a right-to-work law since 1947; however it is not listed as one in the state Constitution.
A vote in favor of the amendment supports adding a section to the Virginia Constitution that would make it illegal for workplaces to require mandatory labor union membership for workers as a condition of employment. A vote against the measure supports maintaining the right-towork law in state statutes, however it opposes adding this section to the state Constitution.
Supporters of the proposed amendment, which the General Assembly passed in a party-line vote, are seeking to add right-towork regulations to the Virginia Constitution to prevent future lawmakers from undoing the state’s current right-to-work status.
A constitutional prohibition can only be changed by a future constitutional amendment approved by the voters. For this rectification to be passed, it would have to go through the legislature in two separate years and then be approved by the voters in a referendum.
“The right to work, just like the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is fundamental, and it deserves constitutional protection,” said Del. Dickie Bell (RStaunton), a sponsor of the proposed amendment, in a statement.
In addition to Bell, the proposed amendment is sponsored by Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), as well as the Virginia Chamber and the National Federation of Independent Business.
John Rackoski, Vice President of Communications of the College Republicans at VCU, said he supports this initiative because under Virginia’s laws “workers still have the right to join a union if they wish”. “But no one can be compelled to do so against their will, which is in keeping with the principles of the free-market,” Rackoski said.
“And in states without right-to-work legislation on the books, many workers find their own money being given to politicians and organizations that they do not support.”
On the other hand, some political groups are against the proposed amendment. Bill Farrar, the Director of Public Policy & Communications of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said this proposed amendment is an “illadvised ballot measure”.
“Virginia is already a right-towork state, and incorporating that into the state constitution would only serve to shut down any future public conversation about policy and law,” Farrar said.
All in all, the proposed amendment seems to be more heavily pushed from the right-wing.
“This is a political maneuver in an election year, an attempt by my Republican colleagues, backed by special corporate interests, to weaken the rights of hardworking Virginians,” said state senator Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax) in a statement.
The Department of Planning and Budget found the amendment would not fiscally impact the Department of Labor and Industry. According to state law, the State Board of Elections is required to prepare written announcements and advertisement to provide public notice regarding constitutional amendments on the ballot. Therefore, this proposed amendment would total to an estimated one-time cost of $131,158 for public announcements, according to Ballotpedia.
During the state Senate debate on the measure in February 2016, Virginia democrats said the right-to-work law is well and alive.
Senate Minority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said in his 41 years, “nobody has ever put in a bill to repeal the right to work”.
In addition to the proposed right-to-work amendment, a second constitutional amendment will be on the Virginia ballot next month meant to aid the families of first responders killed in the line of duty.
Maura is a senior studying cinema and journalism. Before transferring to VCU, Maura was an editor for the student newspaper at Virginia Tech, the Collegiate Times.
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