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Thousands turn out to say no to RTW in Mountaineer State

The following is the latest installment of what will be occasional dispatches from a Teamster on the ground about the battle to defeat so-called right-to-work (RTW) in West Virginia this year.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It was a day full of surprises following yesterday morning’s press conference. Shortly after the last dispatch from West Virginia, we returned to Local 175 only to find out from Local 175 business agent Luke Farley that RTW had been introduced — the first bill of the legislative session, SB 1:

They’re trying to fast-track it. It’s going to judiciary tomorrow. Ken is set to testify. 

Teamsters General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall had been busy throughout the day, speaking with the press, lobbying state legislators and preparing for the action at the Statehouse before Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s State of the State address that evening. Workers had spent the week planning to crowd the rotunda, forming a gauntlet of protesters for legislators to have to walk through on their way to hear the governor’s address.

But first there was work to be done. It was time to rally the troops nationwide. Hall appeared on labor radio to explain to union members throughout the country the latest attack on workers in the Mountaineer State — and the show of solidarity on display in Charleston:

A lot of these legislators don’t even understand what RTW is — they don’t know how it works … They call it workplace freedom — of course everyone wants workplace freedom. But that’s not what RTW really is.

Meanwhile, surrounding the upstairs rotunda, the hundreds of workers became thousands of workers, meaning the press needed to be updated with new figures for their press coverage. We had erred on the side of caution, assuming the new Capitol security and Wednesday afternoon timing of the event would mean lower turnout. As always, West Virginia workers defied expectations, creating a sea of union logos and anti-RTW signs throughout the Statehouse. One Teamster even dressed up like a lemon holding a sign that read: “The Bill Cole Agenda: A long history of selling lemons to West Virginia.”

RTW is leaving a sour taste in the mouths of many workers.

Cole, the Republican senator and majority leader, would later walk through with his GOP colleagues, greeted by the the booming echoes of booing from the workers as they made their way through thousands of workers. Hall spoke from the top stairs leading into the chamber, rousing the crowd with chants of: “Right to Work is wrong!” and “Not in my state!”

The latest battleground in the War on Workers was symbolic. If Mountaineer workers can defeat RTW again, it would be historic — and in a state with labor history as rich as West Virginia, where so many workers lost their lives on the job, and all too many still struggle to get by — it could mark a turning point for the entire labor movement.

Today will be busy too. The Senate Judiciary Committee met this morning, where Hall testified in opposition of SB 1. The legislators have asked him to return at 3:00 p.m. for more questions. The press has been covering him throughout the day as he leads the fight for workers in West Virginia.

Stay tuned.

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