West Virginia workers received a win a few weeks ago from the Honorable Jennifer Bailey, Kanawha County Circuit Judge, who issued an opinion in a case before her striking down key components of West Virginia’s 2016 Right-To-Work Legislation. “Right-To-Work” is an Orwellian set of model laws cooked up by corporate “think tanks” and pushed hard for passage in State legislatures by corporate lobbyists that is designed to bust unions, suppress wages and basically keep the vast majority of a workers’ economic productivity flowing into corporate coffers. Corporate lobbyists finally got enough legislators on their side in 2016 to pass “Right-To-Work” in West Virginia.
The issue before Judge Bailey was whether employees who join a unionized workplace have to pay some form of dues, even where they don’t join the union. Union representatives argued that right-to-work laws unfairly take union property, because employees who don’t join receive the benefits of collective bargaining without providing financial support to help pay for the personnel and effort required to gain those benefits in the first place.
Judge Bailey agreed, writing that “The new law will require unions and union officials to work, to supply their valuable expertise and to provide expensive services for nothing. That is, in a word, arbitrary.” Judge Bailey recognized that the fees collected by unions “essentially function as taxes on collective bargaining members for the costs of ‘legislative’ and governmental services.” She also concluded that prohibiting a union from collecting such fees “takes money from the union, and derivatively from its members, and essentially gives it to free riders. In fact, those who do join or stay in a union would be paying a penalty for the privilege because their dues would have to be raised to underwrite the union’s services provided to the free riders.”
Working West Virginian’s have struggled for centuries with the issue of labor exploitation, and the passage of “Right-To-Work” was a grievous insult to the hard-working people of this State, that will exact a major toll on West Virginia’s workforce, and the State at large, in service of a few well-connected beneficiaries, for years to come so long as it remains in effect. And Judge Bailey’s decision will hardly be the last word on this issue. In fact, the supporting “right-to-work” legislators are likely apoplectic with outrage in the wake of her decision and will be gearing up to pass even more draconian barriers on an honest wage next chance they get. But, for now, it is refreshing to read Judge Bailey’s well-reasoned, logically practical decision that shines at least a little light on the darkening clouds of West Virginia’s labor market.