Earlier this year, it looked as if the Virginia Legislature was headed down the same anti-worker road several Republican-controlled legislatures have recently traveled when legislation was introduced in the state House and Senate that would reduce labor representation on the 29-member Virginia Workforce Council (VWC) to just one person.
While some lawmakers had hoped the bill would fly under the radar, the Virginia AFL-CIO’s radar wasn’t fooled and the state federation went to work to ensure that the workers’ voices wouldn’t be muted on the council that is charged with developing training, education and workforce development programs.
In a letter to lawmakers and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, Virginia AFL-CIO President Doris Crouse-Mays pointed out that not only does federal law require at least two worker representatives on workforce development boards like the VWC, but that full labor membership on the council is important because:
Labor organizations represent the interest of workers and community organizations. Working people, the unemployed and underemployed, apprentices, job trainees, low-income workers, among others, have a critical stake in how Virginia delivers training, education and workforce development services to its residents. Unions help to ensure that the voices and experiences of working people are heard in the deliberations of state and local workforce bodies.
Meanwhile Virginia Sen. Donald McEachin wrote to U.S. Solicitor General M. Patricia Smith and asked her to review the state legislation. Solicitor Smith added legal heft to the fight when she issued an opinion that the proposed legislation did indeed violate federal law. Not only was the legislation modified to preserve the workers’ voice on the VWC, but Crouse-Mays says other improvements were added.
The workforce legislation passed by the Virginia General Assembly and signed by Governor [Bob] McDonnell actually strengthens the voice of workers on the state workforce investment board. Getting the state government to do the right thing was difficult, however, because the initial version of the bill decreased the number of labor representatives. When the Virginia AFL-CIO pointed out that this ran counter to federal law, members of the state legislature heard our objections and revised the bill.
Crouse-Mays and James "Toney" Rigali, president of the Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Council, are the two current labor representatives on the VWC.