Virginia voters will have the opportunity this fall to strengthen the state’s right-to-work laws by adding a constitutional amendment prohibiting mandatory union membership as a condition of employment in the Commonwealth. The amendment would buttress the state’s current right-to-work statute.

On February 24, 2016, Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) approved legislation placing a referendum before voters on the November 8, 2016, ballot asking if the Virginia constitution should be amended to prohibit a contract between an employer and a union or labor organization “whereby (i) nonmembers of the union or organization are denied the right to work for the employer, (ii) membership in the union or organization is made a condition of employment or continuation of employment by such employer, or (iii) the union or organization acquires an employment monopoly in any such enterprise.” If there is a majority vote in favor of the referendum, the constitutional amendment will take effect on January 1, 2017.

Supporters of the constitutional amendment, who view the right to work as a fundamental right, want to make it more difficult for future lawmakers to undo the state statute, which has been in place for 70 years. In Virginia, a state law can be changed by a majority vote of both houses of the legislature and the signature of the governor (or a 2/3’s vote of both houses overriding a gubernatorial veto). Further, a constitutional amendment requires a majority vote of both houses of the legislature in two successive sessions. Opponents view the amendment as unnecessary and a waste of legislative time.

State right-to-work laws are authorized by the National Labor Relations Act. On July 1, 2016, West Virginia will become the 26th right-to-work state in the country (see our post, West Virginia Becomes 26th Right-to-Work State).