News: Quick Takes

House passes right-to-work constitutional amendment

If measure gets support of 30 senators, it will go on November 2018 ballot

State Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly, characterized North Carolinians’ right to work as a freedom so cherished that it was vital to strengthen it from a state law to inclusion in the state constitution.

By a 75-44 vote Tuesday night, House Bill 819 passed on a party line vote, with the exception of Rep. William Brisson, D-Bladen, voting with the Republican majority. If the bill gets the vote of at least 30 senators, a constitutional amendment would be placed before voters statewide in the Nov. 6, 2018, general election.

Voters would be asked to choose for or against a “Constitutional amendment to provide that the right to live includes the right to work and therefore the right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in any labor organization.”

Burr and other House Republicans argued during extensive floor debate Tuesday that the state right-to-work law, in place since 1947, could be changed upon the whim of any future General Assembly.

Therefore the fundamental liberty required constitutional protections against coerced membership in a union or forced payment of union dues, fees, or other charges in a union shop even when shunning membership in the labor organization, Republicans contended.

Burr also argued along personal conscience lines, saying it was wrong to compel an employee to pay dues to a union that would use that money to promote and support political candidates and causes with which the employee might disagree.

“This legislation is vital to continue our state’s reputation as favoring workers’ choice, especially given the broad efforts of international labor unions to undermine current statutes and ultimately open up North Carolina to widespread, economically damaging unionization,” Burr said.

Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, recalled his negative experiences having worked in a union shop, and confronting a union representative over demands that he pay union dues.

Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, who was among Democrats opposing H.B. 819, had a different take. She said she worked in a canning factory in California as a young person, and made good wages as a result of belonging to a union.

She said unions create a happy work force because of a sense of “shared community,” and that California remains strong economically with significant union membership in the state.

Just as the bill would prevent an employee from being forced to join a union as a condition of employment or continued employment, it would bar an employer from requiring an employee to abstain or refrain from membership in a labor organization.

Any lawful contracts that were in effect at the time of passage of the bill would not be affected by the measure.

Donald Bryson, state director of Americans for Prosperity – North Carolina, hailed the ban on compulsory union dues and union membership as a condition of employment.

“It has been 70 years since North Carolina began protecting worker freedom as a Right to Work state. House Bill 819 ensures no worker can be bullied into joining a union as a condition of employment, and codifies a worker’s right to work if she chooses,” Bryson said.

He urged the Senate to pass the bill to allow voters to decide on the economic freedom issue.

“It is ironic that Republicans who promote small government and rail against unnecessary laws are pushing a pointless and costly constitutional amendment to enshrine a 70-year-old so-called ‘right to work’ law in our state’s constitution,” said MaryBe McMillan, secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO.

“House Bill 819 is not about protecting the rights of working people. It is about trying to drive out Republican voters in a critical election year,” McMillan said.

Other primary sponsors of H.B. 819 are Reps. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin, Kyle Hall, R-Surry, and Jason Saine, R-Lincoln.

“House Bill 819 is not about protecting the rights of working people. It is about trying to drive out Republican voters in a critical election year,” McMillan said.

Other primary sponsors of H.B. 819 are Reps. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin, Kyle Hall, R-Surry, and Jason Saine, R-Lincoln.