Know what you’re checking off: Virginia amendment up for vote

Photo by Casey Cole
Photo by Casey Cole
Photo by Casey Cole

Virginia residents will vote on a proposed amendment that would put the provisions of Virginia’s right-to-work law into the state constitution on Nov. 8.

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-to-work 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-to-work 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 (R-Staunton), 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 “ill-advised ballot measure.”

“Virginia is already a right-to-work 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_mazurowski. photo by sarah kingMaura Mazurowski
Maura is a senior cinema and journalism student. She’s interested in combining investigative journalism with filmmaking, and is a contributing writer for the online publications Elite Daily and Literally Darling. Before transferring to VCU, Maura was an editor for the student newspaper at Virginia Tech, the Collegiate Times.
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  1. I would like to urge everyone to vote no on this awful amendment. First of all, unions have no clout and no liberties to collect dues from workers in this state, and they can’t protect workers from being terminated without just cause. How is this freedom? How are workers being guaranteed their constitutionally protected rights to organize and bargain collectively for better working conditions? This entire amendment ought to not only be voted down, but erased from existence. It’s a complete sham and stacks the tables even more in favor of big business and the millionaires and billionaires. Like my father used to say “Right to work=right to be enslaved.” Workers need protections, not fear of being fired for exercising the right to free speech and to go on strike. Since workers cannot strike without fear of being fired, how does it make sense to anyone in the middle class to pass a law that does nothing but further suppress wages and embolden large corporations? How is this representative of a government by the people, of the people, and for the people? Simply put, it isn’t!

    #Right to work=right to be enslaved”

    • T. Cole – I mean no disrespect in asking but isn’t the purpose of the existing statute to prevent workers from being forced to join a union in order to obtain employment? Neither the current statute or the proposed amendment state that employees or prospective employees CAN’T join a union, which seems to be what you are stating in your opposition… The existing law makes it a choice on behalf of the employee – not the union or the employer – and actually prohibits employers from discharging an employee because they joined a union. So in actuality, the law in its current form and the proposal to add it to the Commonwealth’s constitution, both seem to maintain choices on behalf of the employee… The choice in voting for or against the constitutional amendment is then whether or not you believe right to work should be protected against future challenges by the legislature. Voting for it is a vote to essentially concrete that statute. Voting against could mean you may support right to work but think the current law is sufficient/this shouldn’t be in the constitution – OR – you don’t support right to work and want to protect your opportunity to modify or repeal the statute in the future.

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