Labor unions ask for summary judgment in WV right-to-work case

SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail file photo
Hundreds gather, chanting “Right to Work is Wrong,” as politicians are escorted by police into the House chamber during the “Stop the War on WV Workers” rally in January.

Having been granted a preliminary injunction in August blocking enforcement of the state’s new right to work law, state labor unions have filed a petition in Kanawha Circuit Court seeking a summary judgment to overturn the law as being unconstitutional.

Judge Jennifer Bailey granted the preliminary injunction Aug. 10 barring enforcement of the law — which prohibits requiring workers in union shops to pay union dues — until legal questions about the new law could be resolved.

“I think when people are facing the possibility of criminal charges and civil damages, both of which are provided for in this law, it is quite serious,” Bailey said at the time, granting the injunction sought by the West Virginia AFL-CIO and 10 labor unions in the state.

Union representatives contend the law amounts to an illegal taking of union property, since federal law requires unions to provide representation to all employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement, whether they are union members or not.

“If workers can get these services for free, they have no incentive to join the union or remain a member,” states the motion for summary judgment, which means a case is decided by a judge, based on the motion, before a trial.

The motion also argues that the law violates union workers’ rights of freedom of association and freedom of speech, citing federal court decisions striking down legislation in other states intended to block union organizing efforts.

A hearing is set for Dec. 2 in Kanawha Circuit Court.

Meanwhile, the National Right to Work Foundation, in conjunction with the National Federation of Small Businesses, filed a “friend of the court” brief in support of a motion by the state attorney general’s office to dismiss the preliminary injunction, which Bailey announced in August, but to date has not issued a written injunctive order.

“West Virginia’s Right to Work law should stand just like the 25 other state laws in place,” Foundation President Mark Mix said in a statement. “Union officials are advancing an outrageous and rejected legal theory that attempts to create some kind of “right” for them to extort money from workers forced to accept unions’ so-called representation.”

The right-to-work legislation was a top priority of legislative leadership in the 2016 regular session, including Senate President and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Cole.

By virtue of his office, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is the respondent in the case, although he vetoed the right-to-work bill, a veto overridden by the Legislature.

“Gov. Tomblin shared his position on this law during the legislative process, when he vetoed the bill because he believed it was bad policy,” spokeswoman Jessica Tice said Wednesday. “It is in the hands of the court to decide whether the law stands.”

Reach Phil Kabler

at philk@wvgazettemail.com,

304 348-1220, or follow

@PhilKabler on Twitter.

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