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Northam Says He Doesn’t Foresee Changes to Virginia’s Right-to-Work Law

Governor Ralph Northam addresses business leaders
Gov. Ralph Northam addresses business leaders and lawmakers on Monday. (Ben Paviour/VPM News)

Gov. Ralph Northam told a group of business leaders on Monday that he doesn’t foresee making any changes to Virginia’s right-to-work law.

Northam’s remarks are the first time he’s publicly commented on the move since November’s elections when Democrats took control of Virginia’s legislature for the first time since 1995.

Labor groups and some fellow Democrats hoped the new majorities would spell an end to the right-to-work law, which bars unions from forcing all employees of a workplace to pay dues.  

But in his opening remarks to the Governor’s Advisory Council on Revenue Estimates (GACRE), Northam quietly put those aspirations to rest and reassured business interests who are wary of the move.

“I value our status as the best state for business,” Northam said, alluding to a CNBC ranking earlier this year. “We're going to work hard to keep it. We also value our AAA bond rating, and I do not foresee Virginia taking actions that would hurt these, including repeal of the right-to-work law.”

The audience in the room included Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell and other business leaders alongside lawmakers like House Speaker-elect Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) and her predecessor, Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights).

Del. Lee Carter (D-Manasas), a self-identified socialist introduced legislation last year to repeal right-to-work, said he would do so again in spite of the governor's statement.

“The joy of being an elected official is dealing with things you don't foresee,” he said, alluding to Northam's remarks. “I'll still be introducing the bill to repeal.  What he does with it is up to him.”

Northam and Filler-Corn maintained Virginia could maintain its CNBC rating while also improving the lot of workers; an Oxfam study released in August ranked the Commonwealth as the worst state for workers for the second year in a row. In an interview after the meeting, Northam pointed to raising the minimum wage and improved worker training as possible remedies.

“The best thing that we as an administration can do for workers is train individuals for the workforce,” Northam said. “There are a lot of things that realistically, we can do and we will do.