Despite overwhelming support for North Carolina to remain a Right to Work state, the movement toward enshrining the policy in the state constitution has been static.
Seventy-five years ago this week, North Carolina enacted the Right to Work law, which banned making union membership a condition of employment and codified a broad anti-union consensus across North Carolina. But galvanizing Right to Work in the state constitution has failed to gain traction, despite several attempts to pass it.
Union membership in the United States is currently at a record low. About 10% of workers nationwide are union members, and only 2.7% of workers in North Carolina are unionized, which places the state second-to-last in the nation. Only our neighbors in South Carolina are slightly less unionized.
“A majority of states currently protect worker freedom, with nine of those states enshrining their law in their constitution,” Vincent Vernuccio writes in a new report from the John Locke Foundation, “Pro-Worker, Pro-Growth.” “North Carolina should become the 10th. The right to work free from being compelled to join or otherwise pay fees to a union is a critical component of a free society. Labor unions have no justification infringing on a worker’s agreement with an employer with demands to submit a portion of one’s salary to the union’s coffers.”
A bill introduced in the General Assembly last April, Senate Bill 624, would amend the N.C. Constitution to guarantee a person’s right to work, free from union coercion. It has not moved out of committee.
The measure was last given serious debate in 2017, with an amendment under consideration for placement on the November 2018 ballot. It was introduced into the legislature as House Bill 819 on April 11, 2017. The N.C. House of Representatives approved it, 75-44, with one member not voting. All 74 Republicans in the House voted for the amendment.
Of the House’s 46 Democrats, 44 voted against, one voted to pass, and one did not vote. Rep. William Brisson, D-Bladen, was the sole Democrat to vote in favor of the amendment. Brisson has since joined the Republican Party.
At the time, Republicans held 70% (35 of 50) of the seats in the state Senate. The amendment never came up for a vote there.
If passed by three-fifths of both chambers of the General Assembly, the amendment would have read:
[ ] For
[ ] Against
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
The measure would have added a Section 38 to Article I of the N.C. Constitution, establishing a constitutional mandate that no employee can be forced to join, or not join, a labor organization, or be forced to pay dues to a labor organization as a condition of employment. The measure would have defined labor organization as “any trade union, labor union, or other labor association.”
In April 2017, an amendment sponsored by Rep. Justin Burr, R- Stanly, said: “No man or woman should be forced to join a labor union when they seek out employment. Workers should have a choice, and I support the rights of those individual workers.”
“That law can change with the next General Assembly,” said Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, voicing concern that the law could easily be repealed unless a constitutional amendment is passed.
“Just because it hasn’t doesn’t mean it can’t,” he added.
Democrats, however, said the constitutional amendment wasn’t needed and was simply a get-out-the-vote measure for the GOP, which, at the time, was facing a tough 2018 election.
“North Carolina has had a right-to-work law for more than 70 years, and neither party has made a serious attempt to change that,” said Rep. Duane Hall, D-Wake. “I don’t want North Carolina’s constitution to look like California’s, which is convoluted and confusing.”
North Carolina has been hostile to labor organizations for nearly the past century.
In 1929, a young mother of five from Gastonia was shot dead for participating in a textile strike. In High Point, Gov. Max Gardner deployed the National Guard to break a strike. In the 1950s, North Carolina was the least unionized state in the nation. Today, North Carolina has the second-fewest union members of any state. South Carolina has the fewest.