Bill Clarifying Right-to-Work Law Passes in House

Mar 16, 2017

Del. Scott Brewer, D-Mason.
Credit Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

A bill that sparked some debate in the Senate has made its way to the House of Delegates. It would make changes to the West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act, or the state’s right-to-work law.

The debate over whether West Virginia should be the 26th Right-to-Work state began during last year’s Legislative session.

Right-to-work laws make it illegal to require a worker in a union shop to pay union dues and fees if he or she is not a member.

Union’s argue that worker, however, is still benefiting from the contract negotiations the union pays for, without contributing to the cost.

Last year’s right-to-work bill brought on heated debates in both chambers, but ultimately passed. The legislation was vetoed by then-Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, but both the House and Senate overrode the veto and the bill became law.

Right-to-Work was challenged in court by the West Virginia AFL-CIO, the state’s largest workers’ union.  Last month, a Kanawha County Judge deemed the right-to-work bill unconstitutional and the decision could end up in the state’s Supreme Court.

Senate Bill 330, which was on third reading in the House Thursday, seeks to clean up the language the judge saw as unconstitutional.

Delegate Scott Brewer, a Democrat from Mason County and a former construction worker, spoke in opposition to the bill.

“Why does this body want to jeopardize the ability of our industry partners, private business, to shake hands with private organizations and enter into an agreement that provides everything we need for these industries? Senate Bill 330 simply requires unions and labor organizations to spend their resources on people that won’t pay. That’s what this is about; spend your resources on people that will not pay,” Brewer explained.

Brewer was the only member of the body to speak to the bill, however the vote was close. It passed 52 to 48 and now heads back to the Senate.

Members of the House quickly approved 12 additional bills during their floor session on Thursday. One of those was House Bill 2522. It would enter West Virginia into an agreement with other states to allow nurses to practice across state lines without having to get multiple licenses. The compact includes both registered nurses and licensed practical nurses.

Delegate Jordan Hill, a Republican from Nicholas County, works in the Human Resources department for his local hospital, and he spoke in favor of the bill.

“I often find myself hiring numerous travel nurses at our local hospital monthly to fill vacancies that we cannot fill with West Virginia nurses, because of our shortage in the Mountain State," Hill explained, "The current system of duplicative licensure and nurses practicing in multiple states is cumbersome and redundant for both nurses and states. We have an opportunity right now to step up to the plate and improve rural West Virginia and across the state.”

In the House’s Judiciary Committee, representatives of licensed practical nurses expressed concerns over the nurse licensure compact, arguing it wouldn’t resolve the state’s nursing shortage but allow LPNs from out-of-state to take jobs from West Virginians.

Despite concerns House Bill 2522 passed out of the chamber on a unanimous vote.