CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia Supreme Court has upheld a so-called right-to-work law and handed a defeat to labor unions which had sought to preserve workers’ union dues.
In an opinion released Tuesday, the justices granted summary judgment to the state and overturned a February 2019 ruling by a lower court judge who had sided with the unions.
Kanawha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey had struck down as unconstitutional some provisions of the 2016 law, which authorized union employees to stop paying dues and fees or, in lieu of that, make payments to a charity or third party.
After the Republican-led Legislature crafted the bill, then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, vetoed it and lawmakers overrode the veto the next day, making West Virginia the 26th “right-to-work” state.
The state chapter of the AFL-CIO and other unions then filed a lawsuit, maintaining the law illegally took their assets since they still have to represent all employees in a union shop, including those that the law would allow to stop paying union dues.
The new law would have required unions and union officials “to work, to supply their valuable expertise, and to provide expensive services for nothing,” Bailey wrote.
But the state Supreme Court ruled the law “does not violate constitutional rights of association, property, or liberty.”
Proponents said the law would attract businesses and give workers more freedom over their ties to unions. Democrats argued the law was solely meant to undercut unions for political reasons, allowing workers to benefit from union representation without paying dues. Democrats also argued the economic benefits were unproven and wages would drop.
“This is a major victory for worker choice,” state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in a statement Tuesday. “This is not a pro-union or anti-union decision. It is a ruling that will protect workers, give them a greater voice and make unions stronger in the end.”
AFL-CIO state President Josh Sword called the court’s decision “very disappointing yet not at all surprising.”
“As always, we will continue to negotiate for fair wages, good benefits and a safe workplace,” Sword said.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael said in reference to the coronavirus that the ruling “comes at such a critical time, as we will need every possible tool available to re-energize and rebuild West Virginia’s economy as we emerge from this pandemic.”