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Update: A second accuser emerges with misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Also on the Monday rundown: We take you to a state where more than 60,000 kids are chronically absent from school; and we'll let you know why the rural digital divide can be a twofold problem.

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WV Unions Push Back on GOP Economic Arguments

Studies say right-to-work laws don't create jobs and tend to suppress wages. Union workers like pipefitter James Robinette say they can see that on the ground. (Dan Heyman)
Studies say right-to-work laws don't create jobs and tend to suppress wages. Union workers like pipefitter James Robinette say they can see that on the ground. (Dan Heyman)
August 31, 2018

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – West Virginia Republicans are running for election on what they describe as the "great" economy. State unions call that putting lipstick on a pig.

Pointing to GOP lawmakers' "pro-growth" policies, state Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, described West Virginia as "America's Comeback Kid" in a Daily Mail newspaper column.

But union pipefitter James Robinette of St. Albans, running for House of Delegates in the 35th District, noted the state's unemployment rate is second-worst in the nation, and said the so-called great economy isn't raising the incomes of ordinary families.

"It's smoke and mirrors," Robinette scoffed. "Wages are well below national average – I mean, I don't see any thriving economy here. There's car lots everywhere and plenty of used cars, and nobody's buying them. Nobody's making enough money to survive."

Sen. Carmichael said the state's Gross Domestic Product growth and incomes are accelerating rapidly. But the West Virginia Center On Budget and Policy has said job growth in the state is still less than half the national average, and that the state is about 9,000 jobs behind where it was before the recession.

Republican lawmakers have said the right-to-work law they passed is drawing businesses to the state. According to the law, a worker can be covered by a union contract without paying union dues, which backers say improves the business climate.

But Robinette said what it really does is invite low-wage employers to the state, such as the contractors building a new chemical plant unit in his district.

"Not one local man on that job; people there from Texas and Louisiana doing that work," he observed. "We've got plenty of good union hands right here in West Virginia that could go down and work, and man that job, but they're not. They give these contracts to out-of-state contractors that are bottom-dollar."

Robinette said those who want to be covered by union collective bargaining without paying dues are looking for, as he put it, "representation without taxation." Over time, he said he thinks that could erode the good that unions have done in training apprentices and ensuring safe worksites.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV