West Virginia Supreme Court Upholds State Right-to-Work Law

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

April 27, 2020

The West Virginia Supreme Court has upheld the state's right-to-work law. The Workplace Freedom Act (WFA) had been challenged by several unions that claimed the law violated the West Virginia Constitution by infringing upon labor organizations' association rights, property rights and liberty interests.

The ruling reversed a lower court ruling that had upheld the unions' claims. In particular, the circuit court had ruled that the WFA prohibition of compelled dues was an unconstitutional taking that interfered with labor unions' ability to recruit and retain existing members. Because employees could receive the full benefit of the unions' required representation as exclusive bargaining agents without incurring any cost, workers would have no incentive to join the unions or remain a member.

The West Virginia Supreme Court, however, disagreed and concluded that the WFA does not violate constitutional rights of association, property or liberty. "The Act simply does not infringe upon any association rights the Labor Unions have attempted to claim here," the court wrote. "Instead, it operates to protect the right of workers to not be forced to associate against their will."

The court also ruled that the WFA provisions prohibiting compelled dues did not constitute an unlawful taking because:

  • The requirement that unions provide service to all members of a bargaining unit regardless of membership status is part of the National Labor Relations Act, a federal - not state - law; and
  • Unions derive considerable benefit from their designation as exclusive bargaining agents.

This was the second time that the West Virginia Supreme Court had reviewed the constitutionality of the WFA. In 2017, the same circuit court had issued a preliminary injunction based on the same arguments. At that time, the state supreme court had likewise rejected and overturned the lower court's ruling, stating that "under federal law, states may decide whether to allow or prohibit employers and unions to negotiate agreements requiring compulsory union membership, or requiring nonunion employees to pay dues or fees to the union."