As West Virginia working families took time this Labor Day week to celebrate workplace rights and the unions who represent them, State Republican leaders amped up their campaign to lower wages and safety regulations in the name of profit, announcing pursuit of a so-called “right to work” law.

“The fight starts now,” said House Minority Whip Mike Caputo, who discussed the push for the anti-working family law in a Metro News radio interview today. “What they call a ‘right to work’ law is a slap in the face to working people and wrong for West Virginia.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael joined Delegate Caputo in the radio interview and advocated for the legislation. West Virginia AFL-CIO President Kenny Perdue said Carmichael falsely characterized it as an attempt to increase workplace freedom.

“As Mike Caputo pointed out in the interview, the Republican leadership’s ‘right to work’ legislation eliminates freedoms, including some employers’ rights and options in voluntarily negotiating with employees,” Perdue said. “All this would do is allow workers who choose not to participate in a union to benefit from union-company contract negotiations without ever having to pay a single penny for their representation.”

Caputo also noted that according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of workplace deaths is 54.4 percent higher in states with “right-to-work” laws, while the average salary is more than $5,000 lower in “right-to-work” states than in free bargaining states.

The Bureau’s data shows that 7 of the top 10 states with the highest unemployment rates have right-to-work laws in place. In Oklahoma, which adopted a right-to-work law over a decade ago, manufacturing employment has fallen dramatically and the total number of new companies coming into the state has dropped by one-third.

In addition, proponents of right-to-work in West Virginia have not cited a single example that backs up their claim that companies won’t locate here because we’re a free-bargaining state.

In fact, Delegate Caputo wrote to the state Commerce Secretary, asking how many businesses have turned away from West Virginia because the state does not have a right to work law. Commerce Sectary Burdette responded that in his tenure, “I am not aware of any company entering into discussions with our Development Office about locating a business in West Virginia, who terminated those discussions upon learning West Virginia was not a ‘right-to-work’ state.”

“This is an attempt by corporate interests to weaken unions as we know them by preventing labor unions and employers that are maintaining collective bargain agreements from requiring payment of dues or fees for their efforts,” WV AFL-CIO President Perdue said. “Current law already requires unions to represent all workers in their unit, including those who opt out of union membership. In fact, beyond basic representation in negotiations over wages, working conditions, benefits and safety, the union must represent all workers in individual grievance procedures and due process rights.

“By pursing this law change, the Republican legislative leadership is seeking to diminish those rights of West Virginia’s working people.”