Right-to-work legislation that gives private sector employees in Sussex County the legal right to opt out of joining a labor union or paying union dues will be on the agenda for Sussex County Council on Oct. 24.
Councilman Rob Arlett, a Republican who owns a residential real estate company in West Fenwick, distributed the proposed ordinance to his council colleagues last Tuesday and asked that it be discussed at their next meeting.
The Sussex County proposal follows the lead of another heavily union county in a border state. In 2014, Warren County, KY, home to General Motor’s popular Corvette sports car, bypassed the commonwealth’s legislature and became the first county in the U.S. to give workers the right to opt out of joining labor unions or paying union dues in closed shops. A dozen other Kentucky counties soon followed suit, and, subsequently, the legislature voted to make Kentucky a right-to-work commonwealth.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld counties’ rights to enact right-to-work laws in November 2016. In March of this year, the court declined to revisit the decision following another appeal
by labor unions.
The AFL-CIO appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States on June 2, but the court declined to hear the case. In doing so, the court left the door open to municipalities passing enforceable right-to-work provisions.
Aware that some labor allies may criticize his proposed ordinance as a lightning rod for federal or state litigation, Arlett said, “The county’s right to open private sector employment to right-to-work is now protected by stare decisis, the legal principle that precedent becomes the rule of the land.”
“The clarity of the actions of a variety of courts in this matter gives us, as Sussex County leaders, the ability to eliminate barriers to economic development that we feel with some confidence will make Sussex County more competitive with other right-to-work jurisdictions,” Arlett said.
Arlett also pointed out that such a provision inhibits labor unions’ ability to use social conformity to require employees to be “good union members,” under the threat of expelling them from the union, effectively costing them their jobs.
“This is an issue about which I’ve felt strongly for years,” said Arlett, “not only as a matter to improve our county’s standing in economic development, but simply as a matter of treating employees fairly by not forcing them to join an organization with which they have concerns or objections.
“This is not new for me; I first told this council on April 21, 2015, almost 2 ½ years ago, that I was considering bringing forward such legislation,” Arlett added. “Our Sussex County administrator at the time had told us about two bills in the Delaware General Assembly, HB 86 and HB 87, that would have started the state down the path, what he told us was ‘a new movement’ at the time.”