The West Virginia Supreme Court has just unanimously upheld the state’s Right to Work protections, which ensure that no Mountain State worker is forced to pay dues or fees to a union as a condition of employment.
National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix issued the following statement on the West Virginia Supreme Court’s decision:
“Today’s decision marks a great victory for Mountain State employees. The West Virginia Supreme Court rejected outrageous arguments from union lawyers that union hierarchies have a ‘right’ to extort money from workers forced to accept their so-called ‘representation,’ and in doing so protected the right of rank-and-file workers to freely choose whether or not to financially support a union. The court drew from a wide base of well-reasoned precedent for this conclusion, including the Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court decision.
“Sustaining Right to Work ensures that employees across the state, including the workers whom the Foundation filed briefs for in this case, can rest assured that they cannot be fired for refusing to subsidize the agendas of union officials that they disapprove of, while permitting employees to financially support unions if they choose to.”
In the decision, Justice Evan Jenkins wrote for the majority that Right to Work “does not violate constitutional rights of association, property, or liberty” and that states are “expressly authorized under federal law” to prohibit union bosses from requiring dues or fees as a condition of employment. Four of the five justices also concluded that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which was argued and won by Foundation staff attorneys, required them to uphold the law.
After the West Virginia Legislature overrode Governor Tomblin’s veto on the law and became the 26th Right to Work state on February 4, 2016, the National Right to Work Foundation announced an offer of free legal aid to any employees seeking to assert their rights under the new law. The Foundation also created a special task force to defend the West Virginia law, which went into full effect on July 1, 2016.
Later that year, lawyers for several state unions brought a case called West Virginia AFL-CIO, et al. v. Governor James C. Justice, et al. in an attempt to overturn the popular law. Polling consistently shows that Americans back Right to Work laws. A scientific survey also found that eighty percent of union members supported the Right to Work principle that union membership and dues payment should be voluntary and not required as a condition of employment.
Judge Jennifer Bailey of the Kanawha County Circuit Court granted a preliminary injunction on the law on February 23, 2017, at the behest of union lawyers. Similar arguments to the union lawyers’ primary arguments in this case for why the Right to Work protections for workers should be overturned had already been rejected by a Federal Court of Appeals and the Indiana Supreme Court, and also ran counter to nearly 70 years of legal precedent upholding the constitutionality of state Right to Work laws, including U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
The case was appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court by attorneys for the state. Foundation staff attorneys filed 10 legal briefs for workers whose rights would be at risk if the law was repealed, including Reginald Gibbs, an employee of the Greenbrier Hotel and Casino, and Donna Harper, a nursing assistant at the Genesis HealthCare Tygert Center.
This case is the latest legal battle in the Foundation’s long history of effectively defending Right to Work laws in state and federal court from union boss attacks. In addition to West Virginia, Foundation staff attorneys have successfully pursued legal action in recent years to defend and enforce new Right to Work laws in Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Kentucky, all of which have passed Right to Work protections for employees since 2012. In Michigan alone, Foundation staff attorneys have assisted employees in over 100 cases since Right to Work went into effect in early 2013.