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Right-to-Work Topic in West Virginia

February 23, 2012
By ART LIMANN - Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

On Feb. 3, West Virginia Sen. Karen Facemyer, R-Jackson, minority whip and a member of the state Energy, Industry, and Mining, and Economic Development committees, introduced Senate Bill 508. The bill's purpose is to "provide that participation in a labor organization as a condition of employment is prohibited."

The bill would make it illegal to deduct union dues from workers. It was modeled after an Oklahoma law passed in 2001, Facemyer said. Indiana passed a right-to-work law Feb. 1.

"I know it's not going to pass. I know it won't be taken up for consideration, but I want it to be opened up for discussion," she said. "I think the biggest thing it would do for the state would be to help our economic development. I'll be the first one to tell you that I think unions hold a very good place in our business world. All right-to-work is is you cannot force someone to join a union and pay union dues.

"It's time to start talking about it and seeing where some of these jobs might land," she continued. Companies "want everything we have here. They want the lower electric rate and gas rate. They want that willing work force."

Facemyer said, "They want rail and interstate. They want to travel in and out by air. We've got all of it, but (right-to-work) is one large aspect that we don't have. It's the first one that many of these major companies are asking for."

According to the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation, there are 23 states with right-to-work laws in place.

Fact Box

Q: Would lawmakers in West Virginia consider a right-to-work law?

A: Senate Bill 508 calls for such a measure, as it would prohibit participation in a labor organization as a condition of employment. The bill is in the West Virginia Senate's Labor Committee.

State Sen. Orphy Klempa, D-Ohio, spoke out against SB508. Klempa, who is also the service representative for Carpenters Local No. 3 of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters, said the legislation would lower wages for workers and make workplaces unsafe.

The AFL-CIO claims the average worker makes $5,333 less in a right-to-work state. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the rate of workplace deaths is 51 percent higher in states with a right-to-work law.

Klempa also claims right-to-work laws hurt minorities and women. Klempa said companies he has talked to haven't brought the issue up.

"I'm involved with a lot of economic development in the Northern Panhandle," Klempa said. "I've not heard one conversation or one question asked by anybody planning on moving into the Northern Panhandle with a business 'are you a right-to-work state?' It's not a question whatsoever."

Facemyer contends that West Virginia is "marked off lists and not even considered because we're not right-to-work. Some companies won't even give us a shot. We don't know what we could have had. In our research, we have found in some cases union membership even goes up when people are allowed to choose, but some people just can't afford it."

"We have found, when everything is taken into consideration, you don't make less. It's about the same because of cost of living," she concluded. "I want to have this discussion before we get into a crisis. You don't force people to go to a certain church, why should you choose if they should join a union?"

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