WANTED: Legislative candidates who care about average West Virginians, not themselves

The West Virginia legislative session has just passed its halfway mark, and anyone representing working families, union members, consumers, middle-class taxpayers, public school students, just to name a few, will be the first to say it's been disastrous.

"I can't think of anyone, outside of people like Don Blankenship, who isn't going to take a hit from the legislation that's moving right now," WV AFL-CIO President Josh Sword said. "It will likely take months, even a year or two, for most West Virginians to figure it out that they've been had – and that's what this legislative majority is counting on."

So Sword said it's worth pointing out that while this is the halfway point of a session that is being conducted behind closed doors and will hurt the vast majority of average West Virginians, the state is also almost exactly 10 months away from the deadline for candidates to file to run for the state Legislature in 2022.

"The West Virginia AFL-CIO, which represents 75,000 union members in over 575 affiliated locals, are joining with others who advocate for West Virginians in all walks of life – collectively we want to work with everyone from health care professionals and law enforcement, to city employees, construction workers, electricians, plumbers, coal miners, cosmetologists, those in food service, accountants and architects, just for starters -- to recruit candidates who actually care about working West Virginians, rather than serving themselves," he said.

"Voters are paying more attention than ever to elections and their consequences, and that might just help us turn the tide against the current self-serving, billionaire corporate-driven legislative agenda we're watching in real-time here in West Virginia."

Just the legislation voted on during the past week are shining examples of what to present to West Virginia voters as proof of their betrayal:

Senate Bill 277 would protect businesses that intentionally put their employees at risk of being exposed to COVID – giving out-of-state corporations license to put profit over employee safety.

House Bill 2009 is a mind boggling slap in the face of our brave frontline workers and other public servants that attempts to limit free speech and the freedom to associate.

House Bill 2012 expands charter schools and virtual charter schools in West Virginia. This bill will drain up to $400 million annually in taxpayer funds from public schools and provide them to out-of-state, for-profit corporations without any accountability, while House Bill 2013 will hand over $100 million annually in taxpayer funds from public schools to elite private schools and home school parents.

House Bill 2008 significantly lowers requirements for licensure relating to elevator mechanics, crane operators, HVAC, electricians, and plumbers -- a direct attack on craft licenses.

SB 370 removes the requirement for contractors to file payroll information on public improvement construction projects, gutting the WV Jobs Act which requires that local workers be hired for public, tax-payer funded construction projects.

WV AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Andy Walters said he's been overwhelmed by calls from people who work in a variety of professional trades, both union and non-union, upset that the legislative majority is trying to lower the standards for their work.

"They know these bills would endanger consumers by allowing unqualified people to declare themselves experts in electrical, plumbing, even person-to-person work like physical or message therapy, without licensing or training," Walters said. "Professionals who take pride in their work and have been serving their customers, clients and patients with dedication for years are now realizing that those in power here want to allow anyone with no real training or experience to take their jobs. They are outraged, and rightfully so."

In the face of this onslaught, President Sword said the WV AFL-CIO continues to urge the legislative leadership to open the doors of the Capitol to the public to safe social distance participation, especially in light of the fact Governor Justice has opened all bars, restaurants and businesses to that standard.

"This leadership continues to lock out the public, moving bills that weaken worker protections, eliminate liability for corporations that intentionally put employees in harm's way, and hand huge tax breaks to the rich – all behind closed doors," Sword said. "Rest assured, at the same time we're fighting these ongoing attacks, we're gathering support for the growing effort to recruit Republican and Democratic candidates in the 2022 election who will truly support working families."

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