Anti-Union Ballot Measures Have Mixed Election Day Results

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Anti-Union Ballot Measures Have Mixed Election Day Results

Michelle D. Anderson

So-called right-to-work laws, designed to weaken the political power of labor unions, disproportionately affect people of color and women.

A law that weakens labor unions and disproportionately affects people of color and women will be enshrined in the Alabama Constitution after voters on Tuesday approved a ballot measure, while a similar anti-union proposal fell short in Virginia.

Nearly 54 percent of Virginia voters rejected a so-called right-to-work measure, according to unofficial results provided by the state’s Department of Elections. Virginia has had a “right-to-work” law in place since 1947.

Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of Alabama voters approved a measure that will put “right-to-work” in the state’s Constitution. Statewide Amendment 8, as the measure was called, passed with 70 percent of the vote on Election Day, according to AL.com. Alabama has had a “right-to-work” policy in place since 1953.

“Right-to-work” laws, pushed by conservative think tanks, make it illegal for a unionized workplace to require that all workers pay union dues in exchange for being represented in negotiations with management. These measures have effectively struck at the heart of union funding over the past half century.

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The “right-to-work” ballot measure approved on Tuesday makes it nearly impossible for Alabama to undo this anti-worker law, by inserting into the state constitution.

The constitutional amendment was among 14 amendments Alabama citizens considered and approved largely by a wide margin. This means the state’s voters have approved more than 900 amendments to the state Constitution since it was ratified in 2001, AL.com reported.

Now that the measure has been approved, only a constitutional amendment will change the anti-union law, limiting current and future lawmakers’ ability to modify the policy.

The measure, which lawmakers approved for ballot placement in March, will amend the Alabama Constitution to declare that people cannot be denied work because they are union members, or because they are not union members.

The constitutional amendment prohibits unions and employers from forming agreements to make union membership a condition of employment and from requiring workers to pay dues or other fees as a condition of employment.

The Virginia AFL-CIO launched an effort to urge voters to reject that state’s amendment on Election Day, as Rewire reported. The labor group argued that the law would weaken unions and further promote “free riding” among people who work throughout Virginia.

Lorne H. Seay, secretary-treasurer of the Virginia AFL-CIO, wrote in a Roanoke Times column that such laws allow workers who don’t pay labor union dues to benefit from the “tremendous resources” unions use to negotiate contracts, administer benefits and retirement plans, and provide representation in grievance procedures.

Virginia AFL-CIO has pointed to data showing that “right-to-work” laws lead to poor outcomes for workers. Data from the Corporation for Enterprise Development, for example, suggests that people in “right-to-work” states are more likely to hold low-wage jobs.