With all the noise from the presidential candidates and the jaw-dropping exchanges in their debates, you may have overlooked a ballot issue in Virginia on an important HR issue. On Tuesday, November 8, in addition to be asked to wade into the flotsam of the most acrimonious presidential campaign of our lifetimes, we will be asked to decide whether to amend the Virginia Constitution to make Virginia a “right to work” state.
You’re probably screaming at your computer screen, “but Virginia already is a right to work state!” You are correct. Virginia has a “right to work” law, Va. Code § 40.1-59, that prohibits any agreement between an employer and labor union that would (a) deny non-members of the union the right to work for the employer, (b) make union membership a condition of employment, or (c) give the union an employment monopoly in the enterprise. That has been the law in Virginia since 1947, which makes it one year younger than Donald Trump and the same age as Hillary Clinton.
So what’s this proposed amendment to the Virginia constitution? Here’s the text of the ballot question:
Question: Should Article I of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to prohibit any agreement or combination between an employer and a labor union or labor organization whereby (i) nonmembers of the union or organization are denied the right to work for the employer, (ii) membership to 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 it sounds like the current law, that’s because it is. The proposed amendment will not change the law in Virginia, but will enshrine it in the Virginia constitution, where it will be much harder for anyone to tinker with, in the event that anyone was so inclined (it doesn’t look like anyone is—there haven’t been any attempts to repeal the law.) If it’s in the Virginia constitution, it can only be changed with another constitutional amendment approved by the voters, whereas the General Assembly can change a mere law on its own.
The real purpose of the proposed amendment, of course, is to send a message to unions and—more importantly—businesses that we’re not just a right to work state, we are emphatically and as-close-to-irrevocably-as-you-can-get a RIGHT TO WORK state. We really mean it. In other words, you should move your business to the Old Dominion.
Now when you get sucked into another conversation about the election, you will have something better to talk about!