Our View: Right-to-work — Where truly stands McAuliffe?

Posted: June 20, 2013

By and large, Virginia Democrats’ relationship with the state’s right-to-work law can best be described in proverbial terms as “love-hate.” They may love the business climate it nurtures, but bridle at the fact its presence does not allow them to shower their deep-pocketed supporters with union-friendly project labor agreements.

Still, as a general rule, these Democrats pay homage to the cornerstone statute with their silence. Only when pressed by media types eager to run them to ground on the issue will they retreat to a fallback position: bob and weave, evade and “crawfish.” We will never forget how Mark Warner, during the 2008 Senate campaign, refused to answer in simple declarative fashion — “Yes” or “No” — whether he favored card-check legislation that would have eliminated secret-ballot provisions in union organizing efforts.

No Democrat running for statewide office, though, has had a more checkered relationship vis-a-vis right-to-work than gubernatorial hopeful Terry McAuliffe. Want to know where he stands? Check the wind, or to whom he will be speaking on any given day.

In truth, since attaining his party’s gubernatorial nod essentially by default, Mr. McAuliffe has been well-nigh unequivocal in his stated support for Virginia’s right-to-work law, or at least as unequivocal as it’s possible for him to be. The law prohibits workplace labor contracts that require workers to either join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment.

For example, speaking at a National Federation of Independent Business forum during Business Day at the Capitol on Jan. 22, Mr. McAuliffe promised, in no uncertain terms, to preserve right-to-work. This past Tuesday, while campaigning with attorney general nominee Mark Herring at the all-but-completed Silver Line rail station in McLean, he acknowledged the law’s entrenched existence, but, as The Washington Post reported, “declined to say whether he would protect the commonwealth’s status as a right-to-work state.”

If anything, the candidate’s answers Tuesday, on right-to-work as well as on project labor agreements, were nuanced to the point of evasion. To wit:

“I’m going to work with management. I’m going to work with labor. I’m going to work with everybody to move Virginia forward. It’s not ‘either-or.’ We are a right-to-work state that has been here for many years, and it’s not going to change. But the focus has got to be not on trying to divide folks.”

Though Mr. McAuliffe clearly did not repudiate right-to-work, his answer — when coupled with The Post’s accompanying reportage — was sufficiently vague to warrant a Wednesday conference call in which three GOP legislators from Northern Virginia questioned the depth of his allegiance to the landmark law.

While Mr. McAuliffe, in his role as candidate, has done nothing to date to suggest a future preemptive strike on the statute, his past is littered with instances of aversion. For example, as the Washington Free Beacon has reported, Mr. McAuliffe, while chairman of the Democratic National Committee, warned New Hampshire lawmakers their first-in-the-nation primary would be scuttled if the state passed right-to-work legislation.

What’s more, during his ill-fated 2009 campaign for his party’s gubernatorial nod, Mr. McAuliffe bragged as to how, when doing business in right-to-work states like Florida, he made it a point to hire all union workers “because it was the right thing to do.”

While Mr. McAuliffe has been careful not to make impolitic remarks about right-to-work in his campaign thus far, it’s clear — to us at least — what his druthers are. One need only look at his campaign donor list — union after union after union, to the tune of $1.4 million — to realize who’s buttering his bread and to whom he is beholden.

Our advice to state voters: Monitor this situation closely. Right-to-work is too precious to our way of life, and too fundamental to our economic vitality, to lose.