Preliminary injunction halts "Right-to-Work" law throughout West Virginia

Published: Aug. 11, 2016 at 12:24 AM EDT
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KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Options for union workers across West Virginia are in limbo and it all centers around the "right-to-work" law.

Wednesday afternoon, Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Bailey put the brakes on this law for the time being, approving an injunction filed by a handful of labor unions.

"I think it was a great decision and I think...we're going to prevail on the merits of the case," International Brotherhood of Teamsters and local union representative Ken Hall said. "There's numbers of technical issues...I believe it's in violation of the West Virginia Constitution."

In February, lawmakers made West Virginia the 26th "right-to-work" state; prohibiting companies from requiring employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment. Unions are still required to represent every worker. The law applies to new collective bargaining agreements.

The decision to halt the right-to-work law comes less than six weeks after the law went into effect on July 1.

At Wednesday's hearing, those supporting unions said a projected loss of 20 percent of union workers would hurt the other 80 percent; forcing them to either pay more or lose services.

Hall said in other right-to-work states, statistics show incomes are lower while the fatal accident rate is higher. He says the reason could be because employees don't feel as empowered to approach their bosses when they feel unsafe.

"West Virginians are hard-working, honest people and I don't think that anyone in West Virginia, other than some of the leadership in the legislature, believes this is fair," Hall said. "This is legislation that was brought here from out-of-state interests solely for the purpose of lowering the cost for some corporations at the expense of working people in West Virginia."

Meanwhile, defense attorneys argued that there was no way to prove that trends like lower income or higher fatality rates would carry over into West Virginia.

"The plaintiffs have not borne what the Supreme Court of Appeals has said is the burden of showing irreparable harm," Gilbert Dickey, of the West Virginia Attorney General's Office said. "Specific findings of facts are completely erroneous if they are not supported by evidence."

Supporters of right-to-work also say the law can help stimulate the economy because more businesses would be inclined to come into the state, without having to require their workers to pay unions.

In her ruling, Judge Bailey said union representatives did enough to prove that this law could harm workers, and she put the law on hold.

A timeline for the next court date has not been set yet.

At the hearing, state representatives said they intended to appeal the injunction.

Judge Bailey asked defenders to have a plan to move forward submitted by Monday.

Judge Bailey said she hopes to streamline the remainder of this case, hoping to have everything said and done within the next 60 to 90 days.