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Posted at 6:18 PM ET, 01/18/2011

Virginia House backs constitutional amendment to limit unions

By Fredrick Kunkle

The House of Delegates on Tuesday approved a resolution that would enshrine Virginia's "right-to-work" law in its constitution, thereby making permanent the state's traditional wariness toward the influence of labor unions.

Republicans argued that Virginia's laws against compulsory union membership are key to its reputation as a business-friendly state, and that a state constitutional amendment reiterating those principles would strengthen its ability to counter recent pro-labor actions from Washington.

The resolution, HJ500, sponsored by Del. Richard Bell (R-Franklin), passed 61-36. But it seems less likely to pass the Senate, where a similar measure was killed in a subcommittee.

Although the GOP's midterm victory in Congress has all but killed the so-called card check law that would make it easier for workers to form a labor union, Republicans said they still needed to protect Virginia from other pro-labor actions.

Del. Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax) said the National Labor Relations Board this month has threatened to sue four states - Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah - because they recently enacted constitutional amendments that outlaw the card-check method of forming a union. Other Republicans have warned that the Obama administration's Labor Department is weighing new regulations to help unions.

"I submit that we will give Virginia a permanent advantage," said Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah).

But Del. David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville) said there have been no substantive challenges to the statute that forbids arrangements creating compulsory union membership. Citing the writings of James Madison and other Founding Fathers, Toscano said it was poor practice to clutter a constitution with too many amendments.

Del. Ward Armstrong (D-Henry), saying no bill has arrived on the floor of the House or has even introduced calling for a repeal of the right to work laws in 50 years, accused the GOP of simply ginning up a controversy that could help it at election time.

"We've been here what a week? So I think we should take solace that it took us a week before we had our first raw political vote," Armstrong said. "Well, here it is: I guess everybody can now stake up their position and go back to their base and say we gave you a little red meat. In the meantime there's an awful lot of folks in this commonwealth that aren't working. There's an awful lot of kids who want to go to college and there aren't enough slots left, and there's an awful lot of potholes that haven't been filled. But I guess we can waste a little more time doing stuff like this."

By Fredrick Kunkle  | January 18, 2011; 6:18 PM ET
Categories:  Fredrick Kunkle  
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