Mount Vernon Column: Yes for Widows, No for ‘Right to Work’

Mount Vernon Column: Yes for Widows, No for ‘Right to Work’


On Nov. 8, you can vote on two state constitutional amendments that require voter approval, in addition to voting for President and U.S. Congress. There are also local measures on the ballot in some counties.

One constitutional amendment is relatively non-controversial and would allow localities to exempt property owned by the widow of a killed-in-action first responder from real estate taxes. Two years ago, Virginians approved similar treatment for the widows of killed-in-action soldiers. I support giving our localities this authority and voted “yes.”

The second amendment is very controversial and very confusing as written on the ballot.

In 1947, Virginia adopted a law commonly labeled a “right-to-work” law. This law prohibits labor unions from negotiating contracts with employers that require all employees to join labor unions as a condition of employment. This practice results in what is sometimes called a “union shop.”

No legislator has even introduced legislation to repeal this statute in at least three decades. If they did, it would be a waste of time because it would not pass. This might lead you to ask why is this on the ballot when has been Virginia law for almost 70 years and no one has tried to repeal it?

This proposal is part of a multi-state campaign to constitutionalize similar provisions and is organized nationally by a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC. ALEC is funded by various large corporations and think tanks and has advocated model laws to weaken environmental protections, promote mandatory voter identification and weaken firearm violence prevention laws. Provisions along these lines are on the ballot in five states on Nov. 8, 2016.

I voted against placing this measure on the ballot as your senator and voted “no” two weeks ago (I voted by mail).

Constitutions are fundamental governing documents that set forth fundamental rules of governance between people, branches of government and between different levels of government. We do not put every policy in our state constitution for a good reason. For example, we do not put alcoholic beverage rules, the definition of murder, or speed limits in our state constitution.

The “right-to-work” proposal is also bad policy. Workers in states with right-to-work laws earn 12.1 percent less than workers in other states, median household incomes are lower and fewer workers in right to work states have access to basic benefits like health insurance. States with right to work laws spend 32 percent less on K-12 education than other states, have higher rates of workplace fatalities and have higher poverty and infant mortality rates. Workers in these states also have fewer job protections.

I hope you will join me in voting against this provision.

It is an honor to serve as your state senator. You can email me at if you have any feedback.