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The Wisconsin labor fight between public sector unions and Gov. Scott Walker is sending tremors to Virginia’s capitol.
After The Washington Post reported that Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine made a Valentine’s Day trip to Madison to meet with Wisconsin union leaders, Del. Chris Peace, R-Hanover, attacked the former Virginia governor.
"Rumored VA Senate candidate Kaine [is] in lock-step with Obama to thwart pro-business, job creating right-to-work reform measures in Midwest battleground states," Peace wrote Feb. 18 on his Facebook page.
While there is no question Kaine made a trip to Wisconsin and met privately with union leaders, we wondered if he really is an opponent of "right to work" laws like Peace claims.
First, let’s define what it means to live in a right-to-work state such as Virginia.
The National Labor Relations Act, passed by Congress in the 1930s, says unions and companies can strike deals that require every employee covered under a collective bargaining agreement to either join the union or pay dues and fees. But the law contained an exception, saying states could ban this practice.
Virginia and 21 other states have done so. This means a person cannot be fired from a job for declining to join a union or not paying union fees. In states without these laws, bargaining contracts can require certain workers to join the union or pay dues.
Virginia law says "no employer shall require any person, as a condition of employment or continuation of employment, to pay any dues, fees or other charges of any kind to any labor union or labor organization."
We asked Peace to back up his statement. In an e-mail, he said The Post’s article about Kaine’s visit "suggests that the [White House] political operation got involved at the state level Monday after Kaine spoke to union leaders. The causal connection seems present and begs the question that since the President and the DNC chair agree on this issue that resources would be deployed."
Peace also said he thinks the proposed Wisconsin law would make the Midwestern state more like Virginia, at least in terms of labor regulations.
Kaine’s most prominent run-in with right-to-work supporters came in the weeks after he became governor in January 2006. The Democrat nominated Daniel LeBlanc, a former state director at the AFL-CIO, to be his secretary of the commonwealth, a post that oversees patronage appointments on the state’s boards and commissions.
But Republicans in the House of Delegates, citing LeBlanc’s long opposition to right-to-work laws, scuttled the nomination in a party-line vote.
Kaine was furious.
"Never before has the Legislature - regardless of which party is in the majority, and regardless of which party controls the Governor's office - ever denied a Governor his prerogative to make Cabinet-level appointments," he said in a March 2006 press release. "The Secretary of the Commonwealth has no - I repeat, no - role in the enforcement of Virginia's right-to-work law, a law I strongly support."
The statement supporting "right to work" earned Kaine the ire of liberal bloggers at sites such as Working Life and Daily Kos.
When Kaine was considered a possible vice presidential candidate in 2008, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation noted his support for right-to-work laws and said "Kaine’s nomination might not sit well with big city unions, who are strong Democratic Party supporters."
But there’s a major problem with Peace’s claim: The bill being proposed by Wisconsin’s Gov. Walker does not contain "right to work" provisions. It is solely aimed at removing collective bargaining rights from public-sector unions on all non-salary issues. Our colleagues at PolitiFact Wisconsin and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel confirmed that there are currently no Republicans making a prominent push in the state for rules similar to those in Virginia.
We called the National Right to Work Foundation, a group that opposes mandatory unionization.
Patrick Semmens, a spokesman for the organization, said Kaine’s nomination of LeBlanc and the campaign support he received from unions made him suspect in the group’s eyes. Semmens also shared the foundation’s December 2005 newsletter with us, which included an article on Kaine’s election headlined, "Union bosses’ man wins Virginia governorship."
But the story said, "Kaine pledged to oppose any changes in Virginia's right-to-work law." Semmens argued that was a strategic move, not one borne out of conviction.
"The political climate and large support in the state for right-to-work probably account for Kaine's occasional pro-right to work statements," Semmens told us in an e-mail. "Recognizing the reality that Virginia's right to work is too popular to repeal is not the same as real support. After he got in office, I don’t think he gave us that much trouble, but I expect that was because [Virginia]’s political climate didn’t allow him to do so."
We asked DNC spokesman Alec Gerlach if Kaine’s position on right-to-work laws has changed. Gerlach declined to comment.
Let’s review. Peace claimed Kaine is seeking to scuttle "right-to-work reform measures" in Wisconsin and other Midwestern states.
Kaine did meet with union leaders in Madison. But he supported Virginia’s right-to-work laws during his gubernatorial campaign and his four years in office. Even the group that seeks to expand these laws concedes Kaine did few things that troubled them.
Peace provided no evidence that Kaine’s visit to Madison marks opposition to right-to-work laws. He has no information on what Kaine said during his visit. The Wisconsin bill under debate is not even aimed at establishing "right to work" provisions. Instead it is focused on collective bargaining rules.
Facebook, Christopher K. Peace, accessed Feb. 24, 2011.
Code of Virginia, Title 40.1-62, Employer not to require payment of union dues, accessed Feb. 25, 2011.
The Washington Post, Obama joins Wisconsin budget battle opposing Republican anti-union bill, Feb. 18, 2011.
Working Life, Anti-labor Democrats, accessed Feb. 24, 2011.
Daily Kos, Has Gov. Kaine sold labor out?, accessed Feb. 24, 2011.
The Washington Post, GOP Delegates stymie Kaine’s cabinet choice, accessed Feb. 24, 2011.
CBC News, Who’s who in the vice-presidential sweepstakes, accessed Feb. 24, 2011.
E-mail interview with Del. Christopher Peace, Feb. 18, 2011.
Interview with Mark Grunewald, Interim Dean and professor, Washington and Lee University School of Law, Feb. 24, 2011.
Interview with Patrick Semmens, spokesman, National Right to Work Foundation, Feb. 24, 2011.
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