Worker Freedom Won Tuesday

Worker freedom continues to be a winning issue at the state level. Candidates who supported right-to-work were widely successful, and this creates promise for more gains for labor reform in upcoming months and years.

Three states — Missouri, Kentucky and New Hampshire — will have legislatures and governors who support passing right-to-work legislation and possibly other related labor reforms.

Opponents of right-to-work in West Virginia failed to make any gains in that state’s Legislature that would be necessary to repeal their new worker freedom laws. While an effort to provide constitutional protections for existing right-to-work statutes failed in Virginia, similar protections passed in Alabama by a more than a two-to-one margin. A ballot measure in South Dakota that would have effectively repealed right-to-work went down to a massive defeat, with 80 percent opposed.

Additionally, the victory of Donald Trump and retention of the U.S. Senate by a Republican majority will have implications for labor reform at the federal level, especially when it comes to a future U.S. Supreme Court. A constitutionalist appointment could break the existing deadlock on the question raised in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association of whether forced unionism of public sector workers violates their free speech rights.

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Here’s a breakdown of the results we were watching Tuesday night:

Right-to-work passed in the Legislature in 2015 but was vetoed by term-limited Gov. Jay Nixon. Republican Eric Greiten won the gubernatorial election last night, meaning right-to-work is likely and other labor reforms are possible.

Republicans took control of the Kentucky House, so right-to-work and other labor reforms are likely.

New Hampshire
New Hampshire has attempted to pass right-to-work several times. In 2011, the Legislature passed the bill but it was vetoed by the governor. Republican gubernatorial candidate Chis Sununu won the election last night, and since he is a public supporter of right-to-work, labor reform is likely.

West Virginia
West Virginia became the 26th right-to-work state earlier this year. Bill Cole, a main supporter of the bill, failed to advance from the Senate to the governor’s office, losing to Jim Justice. But another backer of right-to-work, Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael, was re-elected to the Senate. Republicans maintained a majority in the House but their margin dropped by a seat, to 63-38. They gained four seats in the Senate, giving the party a 22-12 advantage. Right-to-work is protected and other reforms are possible.

An amendment on the ballot to enshrine right-to-work rights in the state constitution failed, gaining only 47 percent of the vote. The status quo of workers having statutory right-to-work freedoms will be maintained.

Alabamians also voted on a constitutional amendment. The amendment won 70 percent of the vote and workers’ rights are now protected by the Alabama Constitution.

South Dakota
Measure 23 was pushed by unions as a way to overturn right-to-work. It lost in a big way, with only 20 percent of voters in favor, and right-to-work was protected.

Measure 97, heavily funded by unions, would have imposed a 2.5 percent gross receipts tax on certain businesses, killing jobs. It lost, with 59 percent of voters opposed.

I-1501 was an initiative pushed by unions to keep groups like the Freedom Foundation from contacting home health care workers to inform them of their rights to leave the SEIU. The measure succeeded  by a vote of 72 percent to 28 percent, which will mean that it will be harder for home health care workers to learn about their rights.

U.S. Supreme Court
The election of Donald Trump as president and retention of control of the U.S. Senate by Republicans means there may be justices appointed who will uphold workers’ rights. Specifically, a new case similar to Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association may be heard in the next few years to break the tie that resulted from the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

The Illinois case of Janus vs. AFSCME brought by the Liberty Justice Center is similar to Friedrichs in that it argues that virtually everything done by public sector unions involves political speech, therefore public employees have a First Amendment right not to be forced to support that speech. If president-elect Trump appoints a justice who will uphold the First Amendment and this case reaches the high court, right-to-work may come to public employees in every state across the country.