The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

December 17, 2012

Michigan move may embolden union foes

W.Va. officials could see similar issues in next legislative session

CHARLESTON — Michigan’s recent move to ban unions from collecting mandatory dues from workers may raise the profile of that and similar issues at the West Virginia Legislature’s next session.

Champions of the policy known as right-to-work include Republicans in the House of Delegates, who plan an aggressive agenda after nearly erasing the Democrats’ majority in last month’s election. GOP lawmakers have also targeted the prevailing wage law, which sets minimum pay levels for certain public works projects.

“I believe there is a great deal of support for both of those issues within the caucus, but we haven’t discussed whether that would be the part of the agenda,” House Minority Leader Tim Armstead said. “There’s been a great deal of concern about the effect prevailing wage has had on projects ... There are individual members who feel very strongly about (right-to-work) and believe it is a positive component for economic growth.”

Armstead, of Kanawha County, said that Republican delegates will begin meeting next month and only then “will finalize the issues that we want to see accomplished during the session.”

Democrats still hold 54 of the House’s 100 seats. House Majority Whip Mike Caputo doesn’t believe either issue will get much traction beyond the GOP delegates.

“I don’t see our caucus interested in that at all,” said Caputo, a veteran United Mine Workers union official from Marion County. “If the minority caucus wants to make political hay out of this, so be it.”

Caputo’s party also remains a majority in the state Senate, and its members include Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. Senate President Jeff Kessler expects the budget, education and inmate crowding will command much of the Legislature’s attention during the session that begins Feb. 13.

“I think it’s something that caught people off guard, and wasn’t really vetted or reviewed,” the Marshall County Democrat said of Michigan’s quick passage of right-to-work. “I’ve been opposed to it in the past, and I’m still opposed to it.”

This year’s West Virginia right-to-work bill never emerged from the first of two House committees to which it was assigned. A measure addressing prevailing wage cleared the House Judiciary Committee but then idled amid objections from organized labor.

Unions represent just over 15 percent of West Virginia workers, according to 2011 figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s above the national average and a higher portion than all but 15 other states. It’s also roughly unchanged from a decade ago. But labor has also suffered several political defeats during that time. Of the estimated $344,000 spent by unions on election ads ahead of the Nov. 6 vote, for instance, 42 percent targeted races in which their candidates lost. Another 30 percent provided mixed results, paying for ads promoting multiple candidates that included some who lost.

West Virginia AFL-CIO President Kenny Perdue said lawmakers have long discussed both right-to-work and prevailing wage. Perdue does not expect the latter to become a major issue next session. As for right-to-work, Perdue said the furor that has surrounded its passage in Michigan may give West Virginia legislators pause.

“I do expect it to be brought up with a little more force,” Perdue said. “But I believe people will see there are other issues to focus on. I think people will decide there are more important things to do than to cause a fight that would reflect negatively on the legislative process.”

Michigan is the 24th state that has made it illegal to require nonunion employees to pay unions for negotiating contracts, representing them in grievances and other services. Supporters argue right-to-work attracts employers, creating jobs, while also providing workers with a choice regarding union membership. Critics warn the real goal is to starve unions of funds, hobbling their effectiveness. While each side cites studies in support of their positions, other experts say the impact of right-to-work is unclear.

Surprise helped mark the law’s fast-paced passage in Michigan earlier this month. Gov. Rick Snyder had repeatedly insisted during his first two years in office that right-to-work was not on his agenda. But the Republican reversed course following the election, signing the right-to-work measures hours after they cleared the GOP-controlled Legislature there. Republicans likely chose to press ahead with right-to-work during their post-election lame-duck session as their majority in the Michigan House will narrow next year after losing five seats in November.

Michigan ranks fifth for the portion of its workforce represented by unions, at 18.3 percent, according to 2011 BLS figures.

1
Text Only
West Virginia
  • West Virginia chemical safe level following spill based on two weeks

    When federal officials decided what chemical levels West Virginians could safely consume in water tainted by a January spill, their standard assumed people would be exposed for two weeks, not 100-plus days.

    April 23, 2014

  • Some state Democrats flip to GOP

    As Republicans rally for more control in West Virginia’s long-time Democratic Legislature, a few Democrats have jumped ship to the GOP and are challenging former colleagues in midterm races.
    Republicans face their biggest election opportunity in decades in the House of Delegates, where a four-seat swing would put them in power for the first time in 85 years.

    April 20, 2014

  • Gee’s move could save Ohio State millions

    Ohio State University expects to save millions of dollars because former president Gordon Gee is giving up part of his retirement package as he becomes president of West Virginia University for the second time.

    April 19, 2014

  • W.Va. AG court filings: Dismiss gun law question

    The attorney general says a court challenge should be dismissed over whether West Virginians can bring guns to city recreational facilities that hold school events.
    Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s filings Thursday argue the city of Charleston shouldn’t receive court guidance on how to implement a state gun law.

    April 18, 2014

  • Energy-state Dems split from Obama

    Scrapping to keep a West Virginia Senate seat Democratic in a state that’s sprinted to the right, Natalie Tennant is counting on her allegiance to the coal industry to separate herself from an unpopular President Barack Obama.
    Her approach reflects common Democratic strategy and tactics this midterm election year in energy-producing states that lean Republican: Sen. Mary Landrieu is vying for a fourth term representing Louisiana; Alaska Sen. Mark Begich is running for re-election for the first time; and Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes wants to replace Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    April 17, 2014

  • Official: $2M in chemical spill costs reimbursable

    Public agencies and nonprofits that helped after a Jan. 9 chemical leak into the water supply could receive $2 million in reimbursements for their emergency work, a West Virginia homeland security official said.
    Federal and state emergency officials briefed fire departments, paramedics and other government groups Wednesday on how to recoup costs.

    April 17, 2014

  • Manchin urges mines to speak out for coal

    The Democratic senator leading the battle against the White House’s strategy to fight climate change urged the mining industry on Tuesday to speak out about coal’s role in providing affordable, reliable electricity to the country to help combat strict new emissions rules for coal-fired power plants.

    April 16, 2014

  • Many schools already meet new mandate for breakfast

    Many West Virginia public schools have changed the way they serve breakfast to students ahead of a requirement that goes into effect in September.

    April 14, 2014

  • W.Va. grower promotes unmodified feed corn

    Lyle Tabb is hoping that his non-genetically modified corn will take off with farmers who can charge top dollar for “all natural” eggs.
    Genetically modified or GMO corn has greatly simplified the process of getting rid of weeds, but has also substantially increased the amount of a chemical call glyphosate.

    April 13, 2014

  • Geologists link small quakes to fracking

    Geologists in Ohio have for the first time linked earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to hydraulic fracturing, leading the state to issue new permit conditions Friday in certain areas that are among the nation’s strictest.
    A state investigation of five small tremors last month in the Youngstown area, in the Appalachian foothills, found the injection of sand and water that accompanies hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Utica shale may have increased pressure on a small, unknown fault, said State Oil & Gas Chief Rick Simmers. He called the link “probable.”

    April 12, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads