(Paul Nyden, a long-time West Virginia labor reporter, will occasionally be contributing to the Teamster Nation blog about issues before the state's Legislature. His latest report follows.)
“It is time to get down to talk about what the truth is,” Ken Hall testified on Thursday morning, during a hearing chaired by Sen. John H. Shott (R), who heads the House Judiciary Committee.
On Friday, the House will take up the Workplace Freedom Act, the so-called right-to-work (RTW) legislation the Senate passed last week in a vote cast strictly along party lines. The act is expected to pass the House, which is dominated by Republicans.
Hall, president of Teamsters’ Local 175 in South Charleston and the IBT’s Secretary-Treasurer, criticized a report released last November by Professor John Deskins from West Virginia University’s College of Business and Economics.
The Deskins report -- “The Economic Impact of Right to Work Policy in West Virginia” – urges repeal of the current law which requires all workers to join a union in a workplace after a majority of workers vote to be represented by that union.
“A lot of people in the Business and Economics College do not agree with Dr. Deskins’ report,” Hall said. “Funding for the report was provided through the West Virginia Legislature.”
Questions have been raised about the veracity of the report’s findings. A West Virginia Freedom of Information Act request forced the Senate to release copies of several e-mails exchanged between Deskins and Richie Heath, chief counsel to Senate President Bill Cole (R). Passages, often major passages, were deleted from 17 of the e-mails provided under the FOIA.
Ted Boettner, director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, an independent think tank, said, “We stand in opposition to enacting a so-called right-to-work law in West Virginia because it is a race to the bottom.
“It is grounded in a view of the American economy that depends on reducing the income and power of working families in the state.”
Boettner criticized Deskins for claiming lower wages, under a RTW law, would encourage manufacturers and other out-of-state companies to move to West Virginia.
“West Virginia already has wages that are well below the national average.” Boettner testified. “Stagnant or declining wages can also mean fewer jobs due to the resulting decline in consumer spending.”
Boettner said the proposed legislation “is about the redistribution of income from workers to employers and from middle-class taxpayers to the wealthy.”
Responding to claims by people backing RTW, Hall pointed out that federal law prevents unions from “directly contributing to any candidate.”
Hall also noted that federal law states that workers represented by unions “have the right to pay only core union dues – money used to negotiate and administer contracts. The union has to request any money to be used for political action.”