State Politics

Should ‘right to work’ be added to NC constitution? Bill clears NC House committee

Rep. Justin Burr
Rep. Justin Burr

North Carolina is already a “right to work” state that has banned mandatory union dues since 1947, but N.C. House Republicans want to have a voter referendum on adding the policy to the state constitution.

The House Judiciary I Committee passed House Bill 819 in a 6-5 vote along party lines Thursday morning. Several Republicans were absent from the meeting, and at one point Democrats nearly made up a majority of lawmakers present for the meeting. House Speaker Tim Moore briefly appeared in the meeting to speak with the committee chairman, who delayed the vote until more GOP legislators arrived.

If the bill passes both the House and Senate, voters would decide in November 2018 if the state law governing union activity should be added to the constitution. The law – and the constitutional amendment – bans employers from requiring their workers to join a labor organization or pay dues to a group.

“I am pro-choice when it comes to workers in North Carolina, and no man or woman who seeks employment should be forced to join a labor organization,” said Rep. Justin Burr, the Albemarle Republican who’s sponsoring the bill. “Let’s take one step further to support the rights of workers in North Carolina.”

Democrats, however, argued the amendment is unnecessary. “This changes absolutely nothing,” said Rep. Duane Hall, a Raleigh Democrat. “I don’t see any reason that our constitution needs to be as thick as our statutes.”

Hall also says that states with “right to work” laws have lower average wages. Burr says that’s a misleading statement because union-friendly states like California and New York typically have a higher cost of living. Banning mandatory union dues, he said, “leaves more money in (workers’) checking accounts at the end of the day.”

North Carolina is one of 28 states that have “right to work” laws.

Rep. Graig Meyer, a Hillsborough Democrat, said the anti-union amendment will make it “more difficult” for trade groups to serve workers. But Republican Rep. Dean Arp of Union County disagreed.

“There are good organizations that are voluntary trade organizations, and that’s the point – they are voluntary,” Arp said.

The bill goes next to the House Rules Committee.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter