Activists who fought to make West Virginia a right-to-work state see opportunity for other states in their success.
In February, West Virginia became the 26th state to enact a right-to-work law protecting each worker’s freedom to choose whether to pay a labor union. Before, West Virginians could be required to pay union fees to have a job.
The state chapter of free-market activist group Americans for Prosperity was among the organizations pulling for right-to-work, a policy AFP has prioritized and helped several states pass in recent years.
AFP-West Virginia state director Jason Huffman told Watchdog.org that right-to-work supporters elsewhere could learn from victories in his state, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin since 2011. West Virginia border states Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky still permit forced union dues.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich downplayed the need for right-to-work during a February 2015 campaign visit to West Virginia, but right-to-work could be on the horizon in Kentucky and is being seriously discussed in Pennsylvania.
Huffman noted that several Kentucky counties have implemented local right-to-work laws, and Gov. Matt Bevin’s campaign platform last year included right-to-work. Huffman said Pennsylvania lawmakers pointed to West Virginia at a right-to-work press conference he attended.
“Their message was simple: Our neighbor, West Virginia, has taken a huge step towards being significantly more economically competitive, and we had better follow suit before we are behind the curve,” he said.
West Virginia’s passage of right-to-work “has definitely spurred conversation in neighboring states who are assessing the new regional competition,” Huffman added.
RELATED: Here’s why unions hate right-to-work
Democrat Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed West Virginia’s Republican-backed right-to-work bill, but lawmakers led by West Virginia Senate President Bill Cole voted to override Tomblin’s veto in the face of a union campaign defending forced union dues.
Repeating talking points used in other states, unions and their Democratic allies warned that right-to-work would weaken West Virginia’s economy and reduce workers’ pay and safety.
Federal data show that right-to-work states typically see greater job growth and faster income growth than forced-unionism states, and debunk suggestions that workplace safety is reduced by letting workers choose whether to pay unions.
Huffman said unions complain about having to represent “free riders” who opt out of paying dues in right-to-work states, but he said, “if a union is representing everyone in the workplace, it’s because labor officials chose to do so.”
To counter union rhetoric, AFP-West Virginia spoke directly with state legislators and also made sure supportive activists understood what right-to-work does and does not do.
“It was imperative that we get the facts into the hands of the public and policy makers before opponents of right-to-work were able to poison the well with often inaccurate talking points from Big Labor bosses in D.C.,” Huffman said.
A new AFP-West Virginia state legislative scorecard tracks votes on the right-to-work bill and the override of Tomblin’s veto as key votes. Polling shows broad public support for right-to-work, and Huffman does not expect lawmakers to be punished at the ballot box for voting in favor of it.
Unions in Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan threatened to unseat Republican legislators who supported right-to-work, but failed to do so in subsequent elections.
Huffman agreed with Cole and others who have made it clear right-to-work “is not a silver bullet,” but he said economic data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reinforce AFP’s support for letting workers choose whether to pay unions.
“With less than half of West Virginians working, lawmakers knew they had to get our state back on a path to prosperity and that right-to-work was a critical component of that long-term plan,” Huffman said.