'Right to work' is now law of the land in more than half of US states

Laws banning companies from requiring workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment have gained popularity in recent years among Republicans-dominated state legislatures. On Friday, West Virginia became the 26th state to join those ranks.

West Virginia became the 26th state to adopt a “right-to-work” law on Friday when the state legislature rebuked Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s vetoes of two highly contentious bills.

Most lawmakers voted along party lines, with Republicans arguing that the legislation is pro-growth and Democrats arguing that it will harm workers and lower wages. Although some Republicans voted “no,” only a simple majority was required to overturn the veto.

"Right-to-work" laws ban companies from requiring workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment even as they continue to receive union benefits. The laws have gained popularity in recent years among Republicans-dominated state legislatures that view them as a way to spark economic growth.

Opponents say the laws reduce workers’ income by undermining organized labor, an institution with a long record of winning better pay and benefits for workers. But as Mark Trumbull reported for The Christian Science Monitor last March:

Years of study of right-to-work laws have not pointed to any clear and sweeping effects. Some scholarly research suggests the laws enhance job growth modestly. Others see the laws hitting worker wages with a modest ding. And in other cases, researchers have squinted hard at the data without finding meaningful evidence for or against right-to-work laws.

What seems clear is that the volume and tone of the debate over right-to-work laws far outstrips actual certainty about the impact.

In West Virginia, Republicans contend that the new law will boost the state’s beleaguered economy when it goes into effect on July 1. State Senate majority leader Mitch Carmichael called the veto override a “momentous occasion.”

“We’ve been attacked as some right-wing conspiracy group,” he said, according to West Virginia's Charleston Gazette-Mail. “We want prosperity, jobs, opportunity, growth and what we are doing is not working.”

Democrats say the law undermines unions without a clear benefit. In his veto, Governor Tomblin wrote that it would produce little to no economic growth and could lower wages.

Senate minority leader Jeff Kessler called the law, along with the repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law, a “double-barreled attack” on working families, reports the Gazette-Mail.

Republicans say repealing the prevailing wage law, which mandates a minimum wage for workers on state-funded construction sites, will save West Virginia money.

Democrats say its repeal will simply lead to out-of-state contractors winning construction contracts.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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