There has been much controversy surrounding the passage of West Virginia’s Workplace Freedom Act, commonly referred to as “right-to-work” legislation. In fact, based on this one particular issue, many strident big-labor bosses have vowed to defeat any legislator that voted in favor of this important initiative. While I admire and encourage the involvement of all informed citizens in the political process, I respectfully disagree with these union bosses and submit that “right-to-work” is a vital and necessary component in the effort to transform West Virginia into a prosperous, job-producing state.
To understand the importance of this issue, it is necessary to consider the historically poor performance of West Virginia’s economy and to examine the negative impact that the status quo has had on West Virginia working families. A few key statistics illustrate how important reforms like the Workplace Freedom Act are for our future:
• West Virginia has lost thousands of jobs since 2007, and is presently one of the worst states in the nation in terms of job growth;
• West Virginia ranks second worst in the nation in per capita personal income;
• West Virginia is the only state to have a workforce participation rate below fifty percent, meaning that less than half of our state’s citizens are working or looking for work.
• West Virginia is losing population faster than any state. We are only state to have lost overall population since 1950.
It is abundantly clear that the status quo is hurting working families. These horrible statistics are a clear indication of the failed policies of the past, and of the need for bold economic reforms to move our state forward.
Many labor leaders want to defend a system that has produced these terrible results for its workers. Far too often, they use scare tactics to accuse pro-growth, pro-job legislators of being against working families. Nothing could be further from the truth. We care deeply for working families and want to do everything possible to provide more opportunities and higher wages for each precious West Virginia citizen.
The fact is that legislators supportive of the Workplace Freedom Act, and other economic reforms, are seeking to improve the lives of all working families by attracting more employers and more jobs to our wonderful state. Supporters of the Workplace Freedom Act want to empower the individual worker with the freedom to make their own choice with respect to whether or not to join a union. No worker should be forced to make a choice between paying union dues to keep a job or feeding their families.
The freedom and liberty upon which America is founded vests each citizen with the fundamental right to pursue their dreams, earn a living, and provide for their family in a manner that is free from forced membership or mandatory association with any organization. The status quo is not working for working families. Why would anyone want to defend a system that has caused West Virginia workers to suffer some of the most devastating economic impacts in terms of lost jobs and lower wages than any other place in America?
I sincerely believe that the future is bright for West Virginia. By continuing on the path of reform chartered by this historic 82nd Legislature, our state will create jobs, opportunity, and progress for our citizens. All but one of the 26 states that have adopted right-to-work laws have higher per capita incomes and more jobs than we have in West Virginia. Our state will similarly benefit from right-to-work legislation. West Virginia has no place to go but up. This means more jobs for union and non-union workers alike. It is time for West Virginia to embrace a new direction, and start working towards a brighter future.
Mitch B. Carmichael is West Virginia State Senate Majority Leader