Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., did the right thing Monday in putting his support behind federal legislation to invalidate state right-to-work laws. His endorsement of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021 (referred to as the PRO Act) is crucial as the most centrist Democrat in an evenly split Senate.
While some Democrats have yet to commit to the bill, it seems there’s a strong chance they’ll come around, while it’s unlikely any Republicans will vote for it. Manchin likely will give the Senate what it needs for a tie-breaker vote from Vice President Kamala Harris to get the legislation through.
“Right-to-work” is one of those oddly named concepts pushed by conservative and corporate lobbyists and think tanks. The legislation, which exists in 28 states, doesn’t exactly live up to its benign title. Its primary function is to allow workers to get the benefits of the collective bargaining power of a union without having to pay union dues. This supposedly benefits the workers and theoretically creates the opportunity for more employment.
That sounds great, until considering no union dues means less funding for unions, which translates into weaker representation for workers in bargaining for better wages, benefits and working conditions.
Strip away the veneer, and right-to-work is a plain old union-buster designed to allow employers more leverage over their employees while putting more money in their own pockets.
The PRO Act recently passed in the House of Representatives. All three of West Virginia’s House members — also all Republicans — voted against it.
The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, another corporate lobby that basically does the opposite of what its name suggests, blasted Manchin for throwing his support behind the PRO Act, referring to it as a bill that would “kill West Virginia jobs.” That’s an interesting criticism, considering West Virginia passed its own right-to-work law in 2016 (and amended it through legislation in 2017 to get around a legal challenge). The jobs haven’t exactly been pouring in since that law was enacted, have they?
Even Gov. Jim Justice, a coal baron and embodiment of business interests, said during this year’s legislative session that laws like right-to-work and repealing the prevailing wage were failures in generating jobs and creating a better business climate in West Virginia. It was a rare moment of honesty that the governor tepidly tried to walk back a few days later, after a likely communications blitz from his GOP colleagues telling Justice never to say the quiet part out loud again.
Right-to-work was bad legislation. Undoing it is the right thing. Will that automatically reverse the situation in West Virginia? No. West Virginia’s economy, tied almost entirely to waning extraction industries that received massive breaks on business and corporate taxes, wasn’t in great shape before right-to-work was enacted. As has been said time and again, mainly because it’s true, there’s not a single cure all out there for what ails the state.
The PRO Act would be a step in the right direction, though. String together enough similar steps, and West Virginia will eventually find itself on the right path.