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Kaine Supports Modifying Virginia’s Right-to-Work Law

Senator Tim Kaine Speaking at a podium
Sen. Tim Kaine addresses business leaders at the Virginia Chamber Foundation's Annual Virginia Economic Summit.  (Ben Paviour/VPM News)

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va) says he supports changes to Virginia’s right-to-work law but not wholesale repeal, in a shift from his earlier comments on the topic. 

Speaking to reporters after a keynote speech at Virginia Chamber’s Virginia Economic Summit on Friday, Kaine said he thinks workers shouldn’t be forced to join unions. But he said he also wants to prevent freeloaders from benefiting from union bargaining.

“And so is there a middle ground that could accomplish both things -- eliminate the free ride without requiring somebody to join a union if they don’t want to?” Kaine said.

As governor, Kaine supported Virginia’s law, which bars workplaces from forcing workers to join a union. He affirmed that position as recently as March, though a spokesman noted that he opposed a 2016 GOP attempt to enshrine right-to-work in Virginia's Constitution. As the 2016 vice presidential candidate, however, Kaine said he opposed adding a federal right-to-work law

Kaine said the matter was ultimately up to the General Assembly. A press release from Virginia Chamber after the event focused entirely on the business community's opposition to changing the law, with the Chamber's CEO, Barry DuVal calling the law “a cornerstone of the Commonwealth’s strong business climate.”

But Del. Lee Carter (D-Manasas), who identifies as a socialist, said he plans to file a bill to repeal the law, even as Gov. Ralph Northam said last week that doesn’t foresee any changes to it this year.

Carter told VPM News he “appreciates that the Senator recognizes the failure of the status quo on this issue” and urged Kaine to co-sign the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which would expand a range of labor protections, including a ban on discriminating on workers who participate in strikes.

The bill was introduced in the House by Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Va) and co-signed by all Virginia Democrats; in the Senate, 40 Democrats have co-signed the bill.

A spokesman for Kaine said he hasn't taken a position on the bill.

In his keynote speech at the summit, Kaine touched on Democrats’ increasing electoral success in Virginia. The senator attributed their rise to their ability to appeal to an increasingly diverse voter base, their promotion of candidates who are practical rather than ideological, and a focus on good governance.

Kaine, who hasn’t endorsed a Democratic presidential candidate, said they, too, would be wise to focus on those factors. Kaine added that single-payer systems proposed by left-leaning candidates were likely to frustrate voters with employer plans.

“I don’t like the fact, frankly, that so many on the Dem side have said we should have single-payer,” Kaine told reporters. “I don’t think it’s smart policy and I don’t think it’s good politics.”