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Oxfam Report Ranks Virginia Worst State For Workers

Construction workers heading home.
Construction workers heading home. (Photo: David McSpadden/Creative Commons )

A new Oxfam report ranks Virginia as the worst state in the country for workers, the second time in a row the Commonwealth has earned that mark.

That ranking comes on the heels of a July report from CNBC, which ranked Virginia as the top state for business.

Virginia scored just 1.85 out of 100; the next-worst state, Mississippi, hit a mark of 7.18. Washington D.C. topped the rankings with a score of nearly 97.

Oxfam assessed state laws related to wage policies, like mandatory minimum wages; worker protections, including mandatory paid sick leave and protections for sexual harassment; and right to organize, including right-to-work laws. 

Delegate Lee Carter is the state’s first Democratic Socialist to serve in the General Assembly and says the two disparate rankings are not a coincidence.

“What’s bad for workers is good for business,” Carter said, blaming the lack of worker protections on Virginia’s lax campaign finance laws and corporate interests whom he says advocate against labor interests.

“We have essentially no protections for workers at all, except for what’s federally mandated,” Carter said.

Carter wants to pass a higher minimum wage, mandatory paid family and medical leave, and to repeal Virginia’s right-to-work law. Most of the ideas have some traction among his fellow Democrats, although the right-to-work law also is popular among moderate members of the caucus.

But business groups and many Republicans say these initiatives would drive away economic activity -- and the jobs that come with them.

Nicole Riley, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said in an interview in June that a Democratic proposal to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour would ultimately hurt workers and customers.

“When you raise the floor, you’re also going to put a lot of pressure to raise the ceiling,” Riley said. “[Businesses] can reduce the number of hours and benefits for these employees, and potentially have to cut jobs, or they have to try to raise prices on their customers.”