West Virginia Senate President Bill Cole expects state lawmakers to vote on a right-to-work bill early in the upcoming legislative session.
Saying he’d like to “beat Kentucky to the punch” by making West Virginia the 26th state in which workers can choose whether to pay labor unions, Cole told Watchdog.org right-to-work will be introduced “very early in the session.”
“We have a one-vote majority in the Senate. I have 18 out of 34, and we have 18 committed ‘Yes’ votes to pass right-to-work, so we’ll be the lead body on it,” Cole said.
Cole said it “may be a tougher lift” in the West Virginia House of Delegates, where his fellow Republicans hold 64 of 100 seats. House Speaker Tim Armstead has expressed support for right-to-work.
The West Virginia Legislature’s 60-day session is scheduled to begin Jan. 13, and union bosses have already begun a marketing campaign against right-to-work.
West Virginia AFL-CIO leaders claim right-to-work would lower workers’ pay and benefits and lead to more workplace deaths. The union coalition did not respond to a request for comment.
Cole is unconvinced by the unions’ arguments. “To me, this isn’t union vs. anti-union. They’ll frame it that way; I don’t. This is about the right to choose,” he said.
Cole pointed to West Virginia’s high unemployment rate, low labor force participation, low average wages and shrinking construction industry as signs that forced unionization isn’t helping the state’s workers.
“What could we possibly be protecting other than the status quo, which is not working for us in this state?” Cole asked. “I don’t quite know what the unions are protecting other than union leadership’s standard and style of living.”
A study by the West Virginia University Bureau of Business & Economic Research projected right-to-work would “substantially boost overall employment and output growth in the long-run.”
“It’s time to make some bold steps and bold moves — and of course, it sounds bold but I just think it’s common sense,” Cole said. “We need to do something differently if we want a different result.”
Cole — who serves as lieutenant governor — is running in the 2016 race to replace term-limited Democrat Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, and he sees right-to-work as part of the foundation for his potential governorship.
“In West Virginia we better set the stage for an economic turnaround,” Cole said. “Part of that is legal reforms, part of that is regulatory reforms, part of that is right-to-work.”
“A year from now I want to be in a position to go out and knock on doors around this country and say to Fortune 500 companies, ‘Listen, you need to move to West Virginia, you need to make an investment here, look at what we did,'” he explained.
Tomblin would likely veto right-to-work if it’s approved by state lawmakers. But the West Virginia Legislature could override a veto with simple majority votes in both houses.
“The governor has five days when we put it on his desk,” Cole said. “If he vetoes it, we can take it right back up.”
A potential veto factors heavily into Cole’s desire to see right-to-work passed quickly. “If we do it late in the session he can just wait until we’re gone and veto it and it’s done for a year, so we’ll take it up early,” Cole told Watchdog.org.