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Right to Work opportunity for unions to adapt

Sometimes you can’t fight the inevitable, and that’s what happened last week when the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals — after nearly five years with the case in limbo — ruled the state’s Right to Work law was constitutional and valid.

It was really the only decision that could be made. Multiple lawsuits have been brought against Right to Work laws in other states with no law being overturned. The most recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Janus v. AFSCME case, said that requiring public sector unions to charge fees to non-members was a violation of the 1st Amendment, squelching the free speech rights of non-members.

The West Virginia AFL-CIO, which brought the lawsuit against the state in 2016, was not happy with the Supreme Court decision last Tuesday. It alluded the current court — which came to be after three out of five justices resigned, two of those justices were charged with federal crimes, four were impeached and three were replaced by appointments and special elections — also made a scandalous decision.

“That this state Supreme Court, the product of scandal, corruption and an unprecedented impeachment process, would uphold such a law is very disappointing yet not at all surprising,” said Josh Sword, president of the state AFL-CIO, in a statement after the decision was released, a decision they only first found out about from media inquiries instead of directly by the court itself.

That’s an easy charge to make. Many Democrats have accused Republicans of using the 2018 impeachment process as a way to remake the court into a more business-friendly, conservative image. This ignores the fact, however, that the previous court — with justices Allen Loughry, Menis Ketchum and Robin Davis — would have likely ruled the same way.

There were hints of this in the decision by the state Supreme Court in 2017 when it overturned an injunction blocking the law by Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Bailey. Loughry and Walker were well known as the conservatives on the court, but former justice Ketchum supported overturning the injunction and Justice Margaret Workman consented in part and dissented in part — just like she did this time. Only Davis was a hard no on overturning the injunction.

Right to Work is among those issues you can be for or against, but there is little doubt that it’s legal and lawmakers have a right to put that into place. And while people have been vocally opposed to the law, we’ve gone through two elections since then with the unions being the top spenders through political action committees and there is still a Republican majority in place.

Technically speaking, outside a nine-month injunction, Right to Work has been state law since May 2016. While we don’t have access to the checking accounts of unions, I’ve not heard about any major financial woes or mass exoduses of union members. With that said, I’ve not seen this clamoring of businesses racing across the borders to set up shop in West Virginia. Like most things, the wailing and gnashing of teeth was overblown, but so was the promises of what would happen once Right to Work was in place.

So why even have Right to Work? Because at the end of the day, a person shouldn’t be coerced into paying any entity with which they don’t wish to be affiliated. The rhetoric that unions consider part of a person’s paycheck their property has always struck a wrong chord in my opinion. It’s language I’m sure doesn’t help to recruit new members into their group.

In some ways, unions remind me of the famous Col. Nathan Jessep scene in “A Few Good Men.” It’s right past the “you can’t handle the truth” line.

“I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather that you just said ‘thank you’ and went on your way.”

Unions love to tell you about how they fought for the 40-hour work week, the eight-hour work shift, weekends off, health insurance, workplace safety, etc. They did, and we are thankful, but ever since then unions have rested on those laurels. We are now two decades into the 21st century and unions still use rhetoric like it’s the 1920s while pretending like they’re still on top of the world as they were in the 1960s and 1970s.

Unions are great, but unions need to adapt to the world we live in now. If they want to keep members, they need to look at the services they offer and how to offer what workers need and want today. Simply getting mandatory fees from all workers — union or non-union– doesn’t provide much incentive to adapt and change for the better.

My first question to workers would be “what can we do for you, not what you can do for us.”

(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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