Both houses of West Virginia’s legislature have passed a bill that would make West Virginia the nation’s 26th right-to-work state. The bill arrived at Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s desk on Monday, February 8, and now awaits his signature or veto.
After a February 4 debate that lasted almost five hours, the House of Delegates voted 54-46 in favor of the bill, which bears the title “West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act.” The Senate had passed the measure by a 17-16 vote on January 21. Leaders of the Republican legislative majority have identified the bill as a priority for this session and introduced it on the opening day of the term.
The legislation would ban union security agreements—pacts between employers and labor unions that require all employees to join a union and pay union dues in order to work for the employer. If the bill becomes law, West Virginia employees will gain the right to refuse to join or pay dues to a union.
Contracts or agreements in place before June 30, 2016, would be unaffected by the Act, which would apply only to agreements “entered into, modified, renewed, or extended after July 1, 2016.”
Governor Tomblin said in a February 4 press release that he will veto the bill. “I remain committed to growing West Virginia’s economy, but I do not believe right-to-work legislation is the best way to do that,” he said. Noting that the bill was opposed by all Democrats in the House of Delegates and that several Republicans also had voted against it, Tomblin said the bill “received bipartisan opposition but only partisan support.”
But a gubernatorial veto may be merely symbolic. Republicans have a majority in both legislative chambers, and a veto can be overridden by a simple majority of the members of both houses.
The governor has only five days to veto the bill. If he doesn’t act by the deadline, the bill will become law automatically without his signature.