Right-to-Work Has Backing in W.Va.

CHARLESTON (AP) – Michigan’s recent move to stop unions from collecting mandatory dues from non-union workers may raise the profile of that and similar issues at the West Virginia Legislature’s next session.

Champions of the policy known as right-to-work include at least some House Republicans. GOP delegates plan an energetic agenda after nearly erasing the Democrats’ majority in last month’s election. Republican lawmakers have also targeted the prevailing wage law, which sets minimum pay levels for certain public works projects.

“I believe there is a great deal of support for both of those issues within the caucus, but we haven’t discussed whether that would be the part of the agenda,” House Minority Leader Tim Armstead said Friday. “There’s been a great deal of concern about the effect prevailing wage has had on projects … There are individual members who feel very strongly about (right-to-work) and believe it is a positive component for economic growth.”

Armstead, of Kanawha County, said that Republican delegates will begin meeting next month and only then “will finalize the issues that we want to see accomplished during the session.” He added Sunday that several members of his caucus strongly support right-to-work, but he has yet to measure the extent of support among the 46 GOP members.

Democrats still hold 54 of the House’s 100 seats. House Majority Whip Mike Caputo doesn’t believe either issue will get much traction beyond the GOP delegates.

“I don’t see our caucus interested in that at all,” said Caputo, a veteran United Mine Workers union official from Marion County. “If the minority caucus wants to make political hay out of this, so be it.”

Caputo’s party also remains a majority in the state Senate, and its members include Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

Senate President Jeff Kessler expects the budget, education and inmate crowding will command much of the Legislature’s attention during the session that begins Feb. 13.

“I think it’s something that caught people off-guard, and wasn’t really vetted or reviewed,” the Marshall County Democrat said of Michigan’s passage of right-to-work. “I’ve been opposed to it in the past, and I’m still opposed to it.”

This year’s West Virginia right-to-work bill never emerged from the first of two House committees to which it was assigned. A measure addressing prevailing wage cleared the House Judiciary Committee but then idled amid objections from organized labor.

Unions represent just over 15 percent of West Virginia workers, according to 2011 figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s above the national average and a higher portion than all but 15 other states. It’s also roughly unchanged from a decade ago. But labor has also suffered several political defeats during that time.