Kanawha judge blocks WV right-to-work
A Kanawha circuit judge Wednesday evening issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of West Virginia’s new right-to-work law.
In issuing the injunction, Judge Jennifer Bailey said that until legal questions about the law can be resolved, enforcement of it could cause irreparable harm to unions and union workers.
“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,” she said in granting the injunction sought by the West Virginia AFL-CIO and 11 labor unions in the state.
That followed a hearing that lasted more than 2½ hours in which attorneys for the unions stressed two main issues:
The law, which allows workers in union shops to opt out of paying union dues, is an illegal taking of union and union members’ property, since federal labor law requires unions to represent all employees covered by collective bargaining agreements, whether they pay dues or not.
Ken Hall, president of Teamsters Local 175, in South Charleston, and secretary-treasurer of Teamsters International, testified that members of Local 175 would end up paying an extra $172 in union dues to cover union services provided to so-called free-riders.
That includes costs of contract negotiations and representing workers in employee grievances and disciplinary hearings.
Hall said the cost figure is based on a study prepared for the Legislature by West Virginia University economist John Deskins, which projected that unions would see a 20 percent drop in membership with passage of a right-to-work law.
“The whole purpose is to weaken unions, which is to give advantage to corporate management,” said Hall, the only person to testify during the hearing.
The law contains a section that some have interpreted as exempting construction and trade unions from the right-to-work law, a section of the law that needs to be clarified in court so that union members are not prosecuted and/or fined for violating the law if it is determined not to be an exemption.
“The real harms to the plaintiffs and the members, I think, could be substantial,” WVU law professor Bob Bastress told the court.
Deputy Attorney General Gilbert Dickey, representing the state, argued that West Virginia’s right-to-work law is similar to laws in more than two-dozen other states — laws that consistently have been upheld in court, with the exception of Wisconsin, where a ruling overturning that state’s right-to-work law has been stayed by an appellate court.
“It’s a run-of-the-mill right-to-work legislation,” Dickey said. “It’s no different than other right-to-work legislation in any material way,”
He argued that the state has an interest to ensure, “That people who do not want to participate in a union are not discriminated against.”
However, Bailey said she could see no harm to the state in enjoining the law while the court reviews it.
“I don’t see the harm that will occur to delay this for the short while,” she said.
She directed attorneys to set up a scheduling order to hear the case post-haste.
Reach Phil Kabler at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-1220, or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.