News

West Virginia becomes 26th right-to-work state

by Rodney L. Bean

West Virginia became the nation’s 26th right-to-work state Friday when both houses of the West Virginia Legislature voted to override Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s veto of right-to-work legislation. The new law will take effect May 4, 2016.

The legislation bans union security agreements—pacts between employers and labor unions that require employees to join a union and pay union dues in order to work for the employer. West Virginia employees will gain the right to refuse to join a union or pay union dues.

Contracts or agreements in place before June 30, 2016, will not be affected by the new law, which will apply only to agreements “entered into, modified, renewed, or extended” after July 1.

After a February 4 debate that lasted almost five hours, the house voted 54-46 in favor of the bill, which sponsors titled the “West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act.” The senate passed the measure by a 17-16 vote on January 21. Leaders of the Republican majority identified the bill as a priority for this legislative session and introduced it on the opening day of the term.

On Thursday, Governor Tomblin made good on his promise to veto the bill, stating in his veto message that he had “never had a company cite ‘right to work’ as a barrier to relocating in West Virginia.” He predicted that the law “will lead to little if any economic growth and may lower the wages of West Virginia workers.”

The senate voted 18-16 in favor of override, while the house voted 54-43. In West Virginia, a gubernatorial veto can be overridden by a simple majority of the members of both houses.

Rodney L. Bean is a member of Steptoe & Johnson PLLC in Morgantown and a contributor to West Virginia Employment Law Letter. You can reach him at rodney.bean@steptoe-johnson.com.