The bottom line is this:
Should you be pressured to join a cause you don’t believe in?
Should you be compelled to contribute to such a cause, just to hold a job?
Of course not.
Freedom from pressure. Freedom from compulsion. The ability to choose.
That, in essence, is what Virginia’s so-called right-to-work law is all about.
“Right to work” is one of those euphemisms that politicians love — a phrase designed to conjure up positive images.
Of course people should have the right to work, you might say, taking the phrase literally — which is exactly what the creators of the term wanted you to say, perhaps without bothering to fully understand the deeper meaning.
Over time, however, such euphemisms become layered with interpretations, both positive and negative, until the true meaning becomes further obscured.
Many people probably assume the phrase means that you have a right to hold your job unless your employer finds cause to dismiss you. That’s not correct.
The legislation referred to as “right to work” does mean that when you find a good job, you cannot be forced to join or contribute to a union in order to qualify for that job or to avoid being fired.
Taken at face value, stripped of accretions of meaning, the law is good for Virginia workers. Why would anyone wish to give up freedom of choice and be compelled to join or support a union if he or she does not wish to do so?
Certainly, workers who wish to join a union should not, and cannot under law, be compelled to forgo that opportunity.
But neither should workers who do not wish to join be compelled to join. (Essentially, such laws protect workers from termination if they choose not to pay dues to a union in a predominantly unionized shop.)
It’s all about freedom of choice.
Those who wish to abolish Virginia’s non-compulsion law seem to believe that freedom of choice is not the highest value to be pursued. Rather, they seem to believe that workers — or at least their money — should be vacuumed into unions whether they like it or not, in order to strengthen unions, which then can work more energetically for other types of protections.
We believe individual freedom is the more important consideration. From it, other freedoms flow.
Gov. Ralph Northam might not have had political philosophy in mind last week when he made clear that he does not support measures that might jeopardize Virginia’s excellent reputation for business or jeopardize its AAA bond rating, which is based largely on the health of the state’s economy.
Abolishing Virginia’s “right to work” law is seen by many in the business and finance community as antithetical to the goal of maintaining a healthy economy.
If the governor opposes abolishing “right to work,” that stance would put him in conflict with some other members of his party, including several newly elected Democratic members of the General Assembly.
Rather, the governor was focusing on Virginia’s economic future and its ability to attract good employers and generate good jobs, since job growth has the ability to benefit all Virginians across the board.
That position shouldn’t come as a surprise from the governor who oversaw Amazon’s migration to Virginia as the site for its second headquarters.
In this case, the practical and the philosophical may well dovetail.
To keep and create jobs for its residents and to generate tax revenue for state programs, including social justice programs, Virginia needs a strong economy; it does not need to scare away business.
And to support the fundamental concept of personal freedom, it needs to allow workers to decide for themselves whether they want to support a union. Virginia’s non-compulsion law achieves that.