North Carolina adopted its
right-to-work law in 1947, the same year the Taft-Hartley Act, which empowered
states to curb the sources of union funding, passed the U.S. Congress. No move
to repeal it has gained any noticeable momentum since.
But now, 70 years later, Republicans in the state’s Legislature are moving to enshrine right-to-work in the state’s constitution.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Winston-Salem, N.C., Local 342 Business Manager Alvin Warwick, who also serves as the state’s political coordinator. “Putting this in the state constitution serves no purpose other than to attack unions for existing. It’s disgusting.”
The push for right-to-work, a law that allows employees to opt-out of union fees while still receiving all the benefits of a negotiated contract, comes on the heels of several high-profile losses for the state’s activist Republican-controlled Legislature.
In May, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal over the Legislature’s redistricting plans, and in March, members were forced to repeal the state’s controversial “bathroom bill” after a boycott threat from businesses. They also moved to strip the newly-elected Democratic governor of many of his powers after their candidate lost a bid for a second term.
“They need a win, so they’ve decided to come after us,” Warwick said. “This is exactly the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from this bunch in Raleigh. Luckily we’ll have the chance to beat this at the ballot box next November.”
Amendments to the constitution must face a ballot referendum before being enacted. If, as expected, the state Senate follows the House in passing the bill, it will put the right-to-work issue before North Carolina voters in November 2018.
Last year in neighboring Virginia, voters rejected a similar amendment by a comfortable 54-46 margin.
That effort, said International Representative Neil Gray, failed because voters recognized an opportunistic anti-union power grab when they saw one. “Just like North Carolina, no one in Virginia had put any effort into repealing right-to-work for as long as I can remember, and we were successful convincing people here that a change to the constitution is a sacred thing. There was no point to it other than to punish unions and working people.”
North Carolina labor activists will look to take a page out of the same playbook next year.
Even now, they’re starting to push back. In an interview with WLOS in April, Asheville Local 238 President Jason Simons credited the IBEW with giving him opportunities he wouldn’t have had otherwise.
"Wages are lower in right-to-work states," Simons told the news station. "You can go there and pay them no pension. They don't need insurance… Give them money on their [pay]check and [say] good luck. What's going to happen to those people when they're 64 and 65? We let the owners and the corporations off the tab, and we the taxpayer pick it up. Somebody's going to have to pay their insurance. The emergency room, dentist, doctor, whatever they use. Or do we just not care about them?"