After Court Decision, Senate Votes to Clarify Right to Work Law

Feb 27, 2017

Senators approved a bill Monday to clarify West Virginia’s right-to-work law that the Legislature passed last year. The law has yet to take effect because it’s been tied up in a court case in Kanawha County.

After the original bill was approved last year, unions in the state filed a lawsuit challenging it.

Last week, a Kanawha County Circuit Judge ruled against the state on two issues brought in that case.

The first, that the bill was unconstitutional because it forced unions to represent workers who don’t pay union dues in contract negotiations—negotiations that cost the union money. The second, that there were parts of the law that were too vague to be enforced.

Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump explained that this session’s Senate Bill 330, amending the West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act, does not affect the constitutionality question but removes language the judge ruled as unclear.  That language attempted to address concerns about collective bargaining, protecting the ability to negotiate under the law.

Senators approved the bill on a party-line vote, but members on both sides of the aisle returned to the discussion over the constitutionality of the right-to-work law after the vote.

The court order says forcing unions to represent workers in contract negotiations who do not pay the dues would essentially be taking the property of the union, but Trump maintains saying a union must represent all of the workers in a workplace is false. Unions can choose to negotiate contracts only for the union members.

Sen. Mike Romano giving a floor speech during the 2017 session.
Credit Will Price / West Virginia Legislative Photography

"If you create the legal fiction that a union has to represent everybody, then it flows from that that you allow people to receive the benefit of that without paying dues," he said, "but it’s a legal fiction. The law allows members-only negotiations in contracts.”

Democrats like Sen. Mike Romano, of Harrison County, disagreed. Romano said he’s more concerned about the legal precedent the vote on Senate Bill 330 sets.

“I think it’s a bad precedent for us to be able, to be changing laws in order to address court cases," he said. "It disrupts the court system, it disrupts the constitutional separation of powers amongst the three branches because what we do it we go in and change the playing field after the courts have spent a tremendous amount of time and resources in order to come with an answer.”

Senate Bill 330 goes to the House of Delegates for further consideration.

The lawsuit over the state’s right-to-work law has prevented it from taking effect, but its likely the case will be heard in the West Virginia Supreme Court.