by Matthew Strong
Against the backdrop of a growing national debate over large unions and a huge international story about the United Auto Workers Union (UAW) getting turned down by workers in a Tennessee Volkswagen plant, a Vermont legislator has introduced a Right to Work bill in the House. “I have a personal connection with the cost of freedom, and I have a passion to make it available to all people, especially in our state…” said Rep. Vicki Strong of Albany. She was speaking last week, as she presented the bill in the house committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs. With a full docket of bills on the wall, it was surprising they took the time to hear from Rep. Strong and Rep. Doug Gage (Rutland) who is co-sponsoring it.
(Statehouse committee room for General, Housing, and Military Affairs prior to the right to work presentation)
“H.772, The Right To Work Act, allows freedom of choice for workers in the work place, to associate with or not to associate with labor unions” Rep. Strong told the committee. “The freedom to associate, given to us in our Constitution, also implies the freedom not to associate. Our state laws currently recognize the right to join a labor union, but they do almost nothing to protect those who don’t want labor union affiliation. Any genuine personal right should include the freedom to refrain from exercising that right. If a worker’s freedom to affiliate with a labor union merits government protection – and the overwhelming consensus says that it does – then it should also follow that the freedom not to affiliate with a labor union also merits that same protection.”
Rep. Gage, who had previously tried to unionize fellow workers in his current job, said he believes in unions and the work that they’ve done, but it’s important that everyone be able to have a voice and an opinion without being penalized for it.
While it is unlikely to leave the committee, if the bill were to be signed into law, Vermont would become the 25th state in the country to do so, with such company as Michigan and economic powerhouses Texas, Florida, and North and South Carolina. It would also be the only state in the entire northeast area to have this worker protection and economic stimulant. New Hampshire actually passed a right to work law in 2011 but it was vetoed by then Governor John Lynch. An attempt to override the veto was unsuccessful, and just last month legislators tried to pass another form of the bill which was voted down in the senate. Today, Kentucky legislators introduced a right to work bill in their statehouse, although the likelihood of passage is unclear.
Graphic courtesy of WorkPlaceChoice.org)
Vermont Lt. Governor Phil Scott shared his support for legislation aiming to make Vermont more competitive. “I applaud the efforts of legislators, who understand that improving Vermont’s economy is one of the most important, if not the most important thing we must address in order to keep Vermont competitive on a regional and global scale” said Lt. Gov. Scott in an emailed statement. He also identifies with the struggle that Vermont business owners have. “As a small-business owner, I know first-hand the difficult environment that businesses face in this state, and know that we all have a hand in making it better. In this light, I am repeating my call to every committee, whether House or Senate, to view each and every bill through the lens of: “How will this grow jobs and help Vermont’s economy?” I fear we may be running out of time to focus on these issues; the economy can’t be fixed overnight.”