by Doris Crouse-Mays; President, Virginia AFL-CIO
The Virginia AFL-CIO wants businesses and the state to succeed. As elected officials and the media applaud the news of Virginia’s ranking as best state to do business, it’s worth noting that it is the workers that make our Commonwealth strong. As we say – we do the work…and it’s about time Virginia does right by its workers.
According to Oxfam America’s 2018 “Best and Worst States to Work in America” which surveyed the 50 states and D.C., Virginia ranked #51 overall, #51 for wage policies, #48 for worker protections; and #49 for right to organize. The #1 for business ranking seems to come at the expense of workers here in the state and we should admit that.
Looking at our wage policies, Virginia remains among a minority of states that’s failed to raise its minimum wage above the federal level of $7.25. Virginia teachers are paid 31.3% less each week than similar college graduates in other fields. Lawmakers should raise the minimum wage and reward our teachers by offering competitive pay.
Lawmakers also need to help workers by increasing unemployment compensation. Virginia ranks 37th among the states by dollar amount of the weekly benefit and 39th among the states for the percentage of wages replaced.
As far as worker protections, the goal of medical treatment for injured workers is to return them to work as quickly as possible. Yet, when Virginia employees get hurt or sick on the job, navigating the workers’ compensation system can be so difficult and the system is so restrictive that workers routinely fail to get access to the quality care they need.
Virginia does not offer basic workplace protections for pregnant or nursing women, paid family and medical leave, codified public employment non-discrimination policies for LGBTQ individuals nor fair scheduling legislation. Workers who don’t get paid even lack the ability to sue for unpaid wages.
Finally, the study praising Virginia favors states with right to work laws. Again, let’s acknowledge that workers in right-to-work states are less likely to have employer provided health insurance, more likely to encounter unsafe working conditions, and earn nearly $8,000 less than in states without these policies. A strong union presence also provides a skilled workforce through registered union training programs.
Does there have to be this tradeoff where if business does well, workers must struggle? No and Washington State is proof. In 2018, they ranked both #1 best for business and #1 best for workers. So, as Virginia touts being good for business, let us remember where we are for workers and strive to do better.