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Labor Day 2020 Open Letter to Virginia General Assembly Members: Please Repeal “Right-to-Work” Laws

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by Bob Tate

Honorable Members of the General Assembly:

On this Labor Day, I wish to thank members for earlier this year supporting increased access to collective bargaining for public sector employees in the Commonwealth.  This is an important step forward.

I write to ask you to build on this progress and continue to exercise leadership by repealing so-called “Right-to-Work” laws in Virginia.

Virginia is ranked as the number one state for business in the country but is ranked 51st for workers, according to Oxfam. In “Right to Work” states, annual wages are $1,558 less on average than in non “Right-to-Work” states, with lower health benefits and pensions and less safety on the job.

“Right to Work” makes it harder for workers to join together to secure for themselves and their families livable compensation and working conditions.  For decades in our country – and contrary to long-held cultural understandings in our system that workers earn and deserve a fair share of the prosperity they help to create – worker compensation has badly lagged productivity growth. This has contributed to stagnating or deteriorating living standards for working people and families; exploding income and wealth inequality and economic insecurity for people of ordinary means; dangerous political instability and volatility; and reduced faith that our economic and political systems will work to support the needs, interests and values of ordinary hard-working people and not just an already affluent minority of our fellow citizens.

This deterioration tracks almost identically with the decades-long decline in union membership and  bargaining power resulting in part from organized business and business lobby attacks on unions, with perverse and destructive political and public policy support for doing so.

No part of the Commonwealth is an island.  Areas that have fared relatively well cannot do so indefinitely when economic and political conditions in the Commonwealth and our country are falling far short of what our people – our fellow citizens, that is – need.

You have heard, and will undoubtedly continue to hear, from business lobbies that repealing “Right-to-Work” laws will inflict grievous harm on Virginia’s economy.  It will, they hold, be the death knell for Virginia’s top rankings as a state to do business, raise a family, etc.

This is utter nonsense.  Washington state, as one example, proves that it is possible for a state with enlightened political leadership willing to assert itself with business lobbies to do well for both business and for workers.  Does it make sense to say that a state economy that ranks at the top for business and at the bottom for workers is working well?  What do economies exist for?  A state economy that falls short of enabling workers – our neighbors, our fellow community residents – to meet basic living needs is not serving the Commonwealth and its people. To maintain otherwise is like saying that an airplane with an awesome right wing, but no left wing, is a great plane.

Unions raise wages of unionized workers by roughly 20%, and increase total compensation – including benefits, such as paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave – for workers of all skin colors and ethnicities by about 28%, while significantly reducing gender and racial pay gaps. This is especially important in light of what is going on in our country these days, given the COVID-19 pandemic and a serious economic crisis. The fact is, “Right-to-Work” laws do not give anyone the right to a job, but instead reduce wages, health care, retirement security, and on-the-job safety for all workers. It’s time to repeal them in Virginia.

Thank you for listening.

Very respectfully.

Sincerely,

Bob Tate
McLean