Unions unhappy, orchestrate protests
CHARLESTON — Thousands of union members crowded the West Virginia Capitol Wednesday night to protest right-to-work and other items on the Legislature’s agenda.
In a campaign organized by the West Virginia AFL-CIO, union members were bused to the Capitol to kick off lobbying efforts for the state's 60-day legislative session. The protesters gathered under the Capitol dome and chanted at legislators who were on their way to the governor’s annual state of the state address.
Union officials want to prevent any changes to prevailing wage requirements for government-funded construction projects, avoid cuts to government employee health benefits and prevent West Virginia from becoming the nation's 26th right-to-work state.
Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin have all passed right-to-work laws since 2011. If West Virginia follows, unions in the state will no longer be able to compel workers in unionized workplaces to pay dues or fees as a condition of employment.
Bills to make West Virginia a right-to-work state and repeal prevailing wage mandates were introduced Wednesday. West Virginia Senate President Bill Cole is the lead sponsor of the right-to-work bill.
Cole — a Republican campaigning to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin — was also the lead villain of the union protest. Boos and chants of “vote him out” echoed off the Capitol walls as Cole made his way through the crowd to attend the governor’s speech.
Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, Cole’s Democratic opponent in the governor’s race, was one of several elected officials to address union protesters and ask for their support of his campaign.
Republicans have a large majority in the West Virginia House of Delegates and expect to have an 18-16 majority in the Senate, pending the resolution of a dispute over who will replace a senator who was elected as Democrat in 2012, switched to the Republican Party in 2014 and then resigned to take another job two weeks ago.
Capitol building officials were unable to provide an estimate of how many attendees passed through security screens Wednesday evening.