At the elections next week, Virginians will be faced with a proposal to write its so-called “right-to-work” laws into the state constitution.

Even conservative newspapers say this is a bad idea.

This is from an editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:


This newspaper has always supported Virginia’s right-to-work law — and we continue to do so. The law, which prohibits making union membership a condition of employment, is good for the commonwealth’s economy and helpful in keeping a proper balance between unions and employers.

But not every good law deserves to be raised to the level of constitutional writ. A speed limit of 25 mph is a good idea. We can think of no more worthy cause than saving children’s lives. But writing that speed limit into the Virginia Constitution would be foolish and wrongheaded.

Constitutions create frameworks for governance. They lay down a set of rules by which all other rules should be established: Bills for appropriating money shall originate in the House of Representatives, the president may veto legislation, Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, the governor shall be elected to one four-year term, and so forth. They are not supposed to be cluttered up with detailed compendiums of what government allows and forbids. That is what the legal code is for.

This is the principal reason Virginians should reject the proposed amendment. There also is a secondary reason.

Virginia law does more than forbid requiring someone to join a union in order to get or hold a job. The Code of Virginia also forbids making employment conditional upon non-membership in a union. In other words, it is against the law for a company either to force you to join a union, or to force you not to.

This is a properly neutral stance. Yet the proposed amendment includes only the former provision from the Code of Virginia, not the latter. In short: While the state code is neutral, the amendment is tilted against union membership.

It is one thing for individuals and companies to take sides in the tug-of-war between workers and employers. The government should not — and it most definitely should not inscribe its partiality in its own foundational documents. That Virginia Republicans have sought to mar the state’s Constitution with what is, at bottom, a political stunt ought to be a mark of enduring shame.