by Andres Jimenez
Across our Commonwealth, the constant attack on labor rights has made it harder for Virginians to live and work in their communities. This Tuesday, we have the chance to change that by electing progressive leaders who will repeal the so-called “right-to-work” laws that are holding our state back.
These outdated laws have stacked the decks against workers and suppressed living wages for decades, forcing many Virginians to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. Combined with rising housing costs, many families are barely getting by.
In few places is this more evident than where I live in Fairfax County. As an 8-year resident, I was fed up watching my neighbors struggling to work two or three jobs to afford to live in our county. So I decided to run for office and do something about it.
It was humbling to have the support of the labor community as we made repealing “right-to-work” laws a central theme of our campaign. I was proud to stand with them throughout the primary and I’m proud to still be with them today.
Under the guise of worker freedom, for decades powerful special interests have been chipping away at union rights across the country. In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act allowed workers to avoid paying certain union dues but still receive many of the same benefits as union members. In return, unions could collect what are called “agency fees” – lower fees paid by non-union members to cover collective bargaining costs but not any political activities.
Targeting these fees became the foundation for today’s so-called “right-to-work” laws. These laws block the union’s ability to collect agency fees, making it hard for labor to organize and for unions to sustain themselves financially. The result has been lower wages and weaker workplace protections for all Americans.
Today, nationwide union membership rates are at their lowest since their peak in 1954. In Virginia, only 4.3 percent of wage and salary workers are union members, well below the national average of 10.5 percent. It’s not a coincidence the Virginia is a “right-to-work” state.
Virginia first enacted “right-to-work” laws when a series of strikes swept through American industry after World War II.  Conservative businessmen and their friends in the General Assembly worried that organized labor threatened the status quo. Together, they pushed legislation to weaken unions, including the “right-to-work” laws we see today.
But the attacks on labor didn’t stop. Just last year in Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court imposed “right-to-work” on all public sector unions nationwide, making it harder and harder for public sector unions to organize.
Democrats in Congress have a plan to strengthen worker’s rights across the country and to undo the damage created by these anti-labor efforts. Introduced by Virginia’s Rep. Bobby Scott, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, would authorize unions to negotiate agreements to collect “agency fees,” establish penalties for predatory corporations, and streamline processes to reach labor agreements.
Unfortunately, with Republican-control of the Senate and the White House until at least the 2020 national election, it’s unlikely to become a law soon.
Here in Virginia, we’re facing that same battle. Republican control of our legislature has made it impossible to pass a series of pro-labor reforms that Democrats are pushing, most importantly repealing these so-called “right-to-work” laws.
The difference is that we don’t have to wait until 2020 for change, we can make a difference right now. Tomorrow, labor rights will be on the ballot in Virginia. They may not appear in name, but make no mistake – they are there.
In every race where a progressive Democrat is running to unseat a Republican who opposes protecting workers, labor rights are on the ballot. In every race where an incumbent Democrat who fought side by side with labor is seeking reelection, labor rights are on the ballot. And in every state Senate and House of Delegates race, labor rights are on the ballot.
Tomorrow, we have a chance to vote for real change – and the powerful special interests are running scared. That’s why they’re spending millions attacking these progressive candidates. They know that if Democrats take control of the Virginia legislature, then anti-union “right-to-work” laws could come to an end.
That’s what makes this election so important. Not only can we can end “right-to-work” in Virginia, we can also send a message to the rest of the country as we gear up for the national election. Let’s show them that days of “right-to-work” are over.
So please join me in going to the polls on Election Tuesday and voting for progressive candidates who will stand up and fight for hardworking Virginia families.
 “Right to work,” Economic Policy Institute, accessed October 12, 2019, epi.org/research/right-to-work/
 Richard Love, “Labor in Virginia during the Twentieth Century,” Encyclopedia Virginia, October 27, 2015, encyclopediavirginia.org/Labor_in_Virginia_During_the_Twentieth_Century#start_entry