by Anonymous is a Woman
The Meals Tax has captured most of the buzz on social media and rightfully so. Indeed, vote for it on November 8. Fairfax needs the revenue to fund schools (70 percent will go just to that), county services, and property tax relief. Plus, we are the only county in the DC Metro area that doesn’t tax prepared meals, so there is no danger that customers will flee Fairfax restaurants for other locales, unless they like driving long distances to grab a quick meal. Not that likely.
Among the other measures on the ballot is an amendment to put Right to Work in the Virginia State Constitution. This measure should be defeated.
The first and main reason is that it is not necessary. Right to Work has been the law in Virginia since 1947 and nobody is mounting any challenge to that. Indeed, the law, which I personally oppose (full disclosure here), has been supported by both Democrats and Republicans in the past. In fact, back in 1947, a Democratic General Assembly first passed it and upheld it many times since.
Republicans, however, put forth the amendment for two reasons. The first and most obvious is for partisan political purposes. It’s an attempt to curry favor with its corporate donors and it’s a wedge issue that its base cares about. They hope it will be a driver to get out their voters on Election Day.
Another more ominous reason is that even though nobody, even in labor, is talking about repealing the law, Republicans do fear that if unions gain popularity and power, someday, a challenge will emerge. So, basically their second reason for putting it in the Constitution is a preemptive strike to keep a new generation of voters from changing the law in the future, as Senator Mark Obenshein has admitted.
Along with all their voter suppression attempts, it’s a form of voter nullification in their eternal battle with progress and economic justice.
But it’s a pricey tool. Amending the Constitution will cost Virginia taxpayers $131,000 to implement this unnecessary amendment just to stave off a future that may never come in the state. Voters should be wary of the state GOP’s push to constantly stack the Constitution with their pet priorities. That is weaponizing constitutional amendments for partisan gain.
All that said, even the law’s name is somewhat misleading. The original lawmakers designed the title to make the average voter think they are supporting a worker’s right to a job or to job security. Nothing could be further from the truth. What it actually does is protect a worker’s right to refuse to join a union in order to hold a job. That would be a good thing if, in fact, that right were endangered. The truth is even that is unnecessary since it is already illegal to make union membership a condition of employment and has been since the Taft Hartley Act of 1947 (more discussion here). That federal law outlawed closed shops. It also gave states the right to pass their own right to work laws if they wished.
What right to work laws do, however, is protect workers from having to pay something called an agency fee to a union that represents all the workers at a company. Whether the individual worker is a union member or not, in non-right to work states, they usually pay an administrative fee that is less than union dues simply to defray union expenses for collective bargaining and assistance in the grievance procedure to which even nonmembers are entitled by law.
Here is the rationale for requiring these fair use fees. Unions bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions, including safety rules, from which even nonmembers benefit along with everybody else on the job. And should they need to file a grievance, the union is required to provide them with the same assistance it would give a dues paying member. It is only for those services that all workers, union member or nonmember alike, are required to pay and it’s called an agency fee or fair use fee. The Supreme Court upheld the legality of that fee in 1976 in a court decision called Abood v. the Detroit Board of Education. This year, in Friedrich v. the California Teachers Union, the Supreme Court let Abood stand for now by a split decision of 4-4 right after Antonin Scalia’s death. So, it is a case that could well be revisited once Scalia’s seat is filled by the next administration.
Basically, according to Abood, the agency fee is fair because it protects the union from freeloaders who would benefit from collective bargaining and who would use union services to protect themselves and file grievances while never contributing anything to the expenses a union can incur by defending them.
In states like Virginia that have right to work laws (we are one of 26 states with such laws), what I described is the situation. Workers do not have to pay even fair use fees. Under the Taft Hartley law of 1947, states were granted the right to implement these laws. That is a major reason why unions are so weak in Virginia. After all, there are plenty of freeloaders who are happy to take all the benefits and protections without paying for any of them and claiming loudly how anti-union they are. And under right to work laws, even though unions can’t collect fees from them, they still are obligated to defend these free riders in the grievance procedure. Sweet deal if you want to bankrupt a union.
And that is the reason so many right wing groups are fighting this battle now. For example, Friedrich v. California Teachers Union was brought by the Center for Individual Rights, a Bradley Foundation funded legal foundation whose other contributors are the Olin Foundation and the Sarah J. Scaife Foundation. The reason groups like this are funding a raft of anti-labor laws like right to work is to eviscerate unions and keep workers unorganized and unable to fight for better wages, fair scheduling, and safer working environments.
Unfortunately, even voting NO will not strengthen unions in Virginia. But by keeping Right to Work out of the Constitution, it will, at least, keep unions from losing even more ground and keep workers from losing even more rights down the road in Virginia. So, I urge you to vote NO on the Right to Work amendment on the ballot this November 8.