West Virginia judge tosses state GOP’s right to work law – again
Wisconsin workers protest Right to Work. | AP

CHARLESTON, W. VA.—In yet another win for workers in West Virginia, Kanawha County (Charleston) Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Bailey has tossed out much of the state GOP-enacted “right to work” law – again.

But the saga may not be over yet. The law, and the dispute over it pitting the Teamsters, the state AFL-CIO and other unions on one side against the Mountaineer State’s ruling Republicans has already been all the way up to the state Supreme Court once. And it may be headed there again.

Nevertheless, unionists, led by Teamsters Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall, who is also president of South Charleston, W. Va., Local 175, cheered Bailey’s ruling against the so-called “Workplace Freedom Act,” originally passed in 2016.

“We applaud Judge Bailey’s ruling. The language of the bill – as it was written, amended and enacted into law – has significant issues that are in violation of the West Virginia Constitution,” Hall said after a prior hearing in Bailey’s court and before the law’s – and the unions’ – first trip up to the state’s highest court.

The Teamsters, the West Virginia AFL-CIO and other unions challenged the law, which was SB1 in the 2015-2016 legislative session.  They said RTW, by “enabling nonmembers of unions to get union services for free” is an “illegal taking of union property and resources.”

Bailey ruled for the unions the first time, agreeing with that argument, but the High Court overruled her. It didn’t let the law take effect, though. It sent the whole case back down to Bailey to be argued on the merits, and the Teamsters and the other unions won again.

RTW would let workers “take unions’ property without compensation,” her decision said.

The state’s RTW bill is one of a mountain of anti-worker legislation pushed through GOP-run states around the nation by right wing and business interests, led by the American Legislative Exchange Council – a secret cabal of legislators and corporate lobbyists – and the so-called National Right To Work Committee. That lobby’s mission, though not openly stated, is to destroy unions and workers.

RTW laws nationwide let non-union workers in union-represented workplaces become total “free riders,” able to use unions’ protections and services without paying one red cent for them. Making all workers “free riders,” accomplishes a key right-wing goal, articulated to The Guardian several years ago, to “de-fund the left.”

“Membership is the lifeblood of any union,” Bailey wrote. Forcing unions to provide their services for free, “seriously hampers the unions’ ability to recruit new members and retain old ones,” and amounts to “giving free riders something for nothing.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.