Lavelle's Right to Work Bill Sparks Debate

The Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee recently declined to release a bill aimed at revitalizing Delaware’s manufacturing industry.

By not releasing Sen. Greg Lavelle’s (R-Sharpley) legislation to create right-to-work zones in Delaware,
the Democrat-controlled committee has essentially killed the bill.

Under the measure, workers within these zones could not be forced to join or financially support a union as a condition of employment. It would also exempt manufacturing businesses adding at least 20 new workers from paying the Gross Receipts Tax for five years.

During Wednesday’s hour-long public hearing in Legislative Hall advocates of the bill, including representatives from several business organizations, argued such an initiative would create a more competitive environment, attract new businesses to Delaware and generate more jobs.

Sen. Lavelle identified multiple Delaware locations where the idea could take root, such as the former General Motors Boxwood Road plant near Newport, as well as other existing facilities in New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties.

His feeling after the meeting was that while the bill may be dead, the idea is not.

“For me, what came out of the meeting was that this was the first formal discussion that we’ve had about this issue in Delaware,” he said. “The fact is, coming out of the recession, where many other states have added manufacturing jobs, Delaware has lost another 3,000. So the conversation on how to turn that around has to continue. And judging from the many comments we heard in committee supporting this bill, there’s no doubt this conversation will continue.”

Nationwide, the concept of spurring job creation through right-to-work legislation is gaining popularity and showing positive results. In March, Wisconsin became the 25th right-to-work state. In 2012, Indiana and Michigan became the 23rd and 24th states, respectively, to adopt right-to-work laws. Since then, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Indiana has added 41,000 manufacturing jobs while Michigan has created 63,000 additional manufacturing positions.

By contrast, Delaware’s manufacturing sector has struggled over the last decade. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the state had 33,800 manufacturing jobs in Feb. 2005 but just 25,500 people employed in the sector this past February – a decline of nearly 25 percent.

Representatives of organized labor criticized the bill Wednesday as being “anti-union.” But David Stevenson, speaking at the hearing on behalf of the non-profit research organization, Caesar Rodney Institute, disputed that notion.

“Indiana, a recent right-to-work state, last year added 50,000 union members,” he said. “If we want to grow private-sector unions we need the jobs. If we get more manufacturing jobs we’re going to have more union jobs, it’s as simple as that. We’re not trying to bust the union here, we’re trying to grow Delaware’s economy.”

Other supporters testified the bill would set Delaware apart from states like Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland which currently do not have right-to-work laws.

“The state chamber is of the opinion that while this may not be a panacea that all of a sudden fixes the employment and wages situation that we are currently facing, it’s a step in the right direction,” said James DeChene, director of government relations for the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce. “It’s one piece in an overall arsenal directed toward economic development efforts.”

Added Joe Fitzgerald, representing the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce: “We think that perhaps these right to work zones are something worth trying. And if that helps us attract manufacturing jobs – along with the Gross Receipts Tax exemption – we think that Delaware will be better off in the long run. So we support Sen. Lavelle’s legislation and thank him for introducing it.”

This story was provided by the Senate Republican Caucus.

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