During the four years I served as governor of Virginia, I had the honor of recruiting jobs and investment into a state that became one of the strongest economies in the United States.
With lower taxes, prompt-permitting, regulatory reform, safer communities, academic accountability in our schools and smart higher-education investments, well over 300,000 net new private-sector jobs were added in Virginia during my term.
As proud as I am of this record, I know the future can be even better for our commonwealth — but we need the right policy environment to live up to our potential. States that consistently succeed in competing for job-creating business investments do so by keeping tax, energy and regulatory costs comparatively low, and by educating, training and retaining a skilled workforce from which to draw capable, productive employees.
Right-to-work protections, which were established in Virginia nearly three-quarters of a century ago and have now spread to a total of 27 states, are especially crucial. Right-to-work laws protect individual liberty by guaranteeing that no employee can be compelled to join or pay dues or fees to a union as a condition of employment. People are free to join a union in Virginia, and we trust the individual worker, rather than anybody else, to decide if a union deserves his or her financial support.
Unfortunately, a number of Virginia’s current elected officials are proposing to eliminate our right-to-work law. Bills introduced this year in the state House of Delegates and Senate would authorize, for the first time in the Old Dominion since 1947, the firing of employees for refusal to pay forced fees to a union. The House forced-fee bill’s sponsor bluntly calls it right-to-work repeal. And Politico has applied the same name to the Senate bill.
Even with the passage and implementation of five additional state right-to-work laws since the beginning of 2012, Virginia remains today, just as it was when I was governor, the northernmost right-to-work state on the Eastern seaboard. I know well how our pro-individual liberty labor policy gives us a competitive advantage. Our administration recruited thousands of jobs from high-tax, non-right-to-work states to our north.
The very fact that bills to overturn our right-to-work law are on the legislative table in Virginia this year is already damaging our state’s credibility as a reliable business-friendly state. Certainty is very important for people making long-term investment decisions. Uncertainty about the future of our Right to Work law may well already be harming opportunities for Virginia job seekers and our reputation.
If I were the governor of Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, or any Right to Work state located to the south or west of Virginia, it would be perfectly logical to point out to business site decision makers that politically powerful people in Virginia are proposing to bring back compulsory unionism.
Many site-selection specialists over the years have publicly said that the presence of a right-to-work law is often one of the first factors a company considers before bringing jobs to a state. In fact, a 2017 survey sponsored by Chief Executive magazine found that American CEO’s prefer to add jobs in right-to-work states over non-right-to-work states by a whopping 26-1 margin. Across the U.S., from 2008 to 2018, the number of employed people grew more than twice as fast in percentage terms in right-to-work states as in forced-unionism states, according to the U.S. Labor Department’s household survey. And a recent analysis by the National Institute for Labor Relations Research shows that the mean after-tax, cost of living-adjusted household income in 2018 was roughly $4,300 higher in right-to-work states than in forced-unionism states. Virginia’s was the highest of all 50 states.
Since 2013, I have developed an even deeper appreciation of how important employees who are willing and able to develop their skills and show personal initiative are to the success of American businesses in my capacity as chair of the Manufacturing Competitiveness Initiative of the National Association of Manufacturers. Right-to-work laws foster an ideal environment for modern manufacturing by empowering the individual employee. The last thing Virginia should do is throw away this key valuable competitive asset: Freedom.
• George Allen is a former governor of Virginia and served as a U.S. senator.