Governor vetoes right to work, repeal of prevailing wage

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Governor vetoes right to work, repeal of prevailing wage
By Pamela Pritt Register-Herald Reporter

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued vetoes Thursday on SB1, the right to work bill, and HB 4005, repealing the prevailing wage, both measures high on the GOP agenda this year. 

Tomblin said he disputed that the state needed a right to work law.

“The issue of right to work has been discussed for a number of years, but I have never had a company cite right to work as a barrier to relocating to West Virginia. We do not lack prospects. Our issues are best addressed by improving our workforce and creating new development opportunities,” Tomblin said in a prepared statement.

Tomblin said the state has welcomed more than $10 billion in new investments and expansion projects without a right to work law.

“I do not believe West Virginia needs a right-to-work law, a law that would lead to little if any economy growth and may lower the wages of West Virginia workers,” the governor said.

Tomblin said he had worked with lawmakers last year on prevailing wage by exempting projects less than $500,000 and setting up a system to improve the wage rate calculations.

“These new rates have been in place for less than a year — we need to give this new methodology time to work,” the governor said. “We don’t need to pass bills that lower the wages of West Virginia workers and do little, if anything, to stimulate our economy.”

The bills were pushed through early in the session in anticipation of a gubernatorial veto, giving the Legislature the time to gather the votes for an override. The battle for those votes will begin quickly. The GOP needs a majority of members in both chambers to override the veto.

Senate President Bill Cole said this week he expected that override vote “quickly” after Tomblin announced he would veto the bills.

“I am not surprised at Gov. Tomblin’s decision to veto these bills, but I am disappointed. From the beginning, I have said the Senate is committed to doing what is necessary in order to move our state forward,” Cole said. “I believe both of these bills — the West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act and the repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law — accomplish this goal. The Senate will not delay action to override these vetoes.”

Similarly, Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said he was not surprised by the veto.

“We believed this would likely be the governor’s response, which is why Senate President Bill Cole and I made early passage of these bills a priority in the first few weeks of the session,” Armstead said. “Nonetheless, it’s disheartening that the governor, who professes concern about the state’s budget, would reject bills designed to promote economic growth and rein in excess government spending.”

Armstead said Tomblin had rejected an important measure to make sure West Virginians get the most from their hard-earned tax dollars. The veto of the Workplace Freedom bill reflects a disregard for the rights of workers who simply want to be able to go to work each day and support their families while having the freedom to choose the organizations with which they associate, he said.

Right to work means that employers cannot require their workers to belong to a union. The law means unions would be required to represent non-union workers even though they would not pay union dues or fees. Prevailing wage is paid on public projects, and is based on the federal Davis-Bacon Act from the 1930s.

Union representatives said they were pleased with Tomblin’s veto of the bills. Union members filled committee meetings and the chambers’ galleries during discussion and passage of the bills. West Virginia AFL-CIO president Kenny Perdue said he appreciated the governor’s vetoes.

“Rather than endorsing legislation that only serves out-of-state corporate interests, the governor stood up for West Virginia working families,” Perdue said.

Perdue noted that economic news is emerging from a Right-to-Work state. On Wednesday, Carrier announced that it is shifting manufacturing operations of two Indiana plants to Mexico, which will cost about 2,100 workers their jobs. Indiana became a Right to Work state in 2012.

Perdue said he hoped that lawmakers who voted for the bills would reconsider and vote to uphold the governor’s vetoes.”

House Majority Whip John O’Neal, R-Raleigh, said earlier this week that House members will be able to “vote their conscience,” and he anticipates the override vote will largely mirror the votes already taken on the bills.