MARTINSBURG, W. Va. (WDVM) — People gathered outside of West Virginia Senator Shelly Moore Capito’s Martinsburg office to encourage her to support a bill that would bring back union workers’ rights they say have been whittled down over the years.
In the United States, almost 16 million workers were part of a union in 2020, playing huge roles in sectors such as education, training, and protective services. However, the current number of union workers is only about half of what it was back in 1983 when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics started comparing union data.
In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers.
A union rights advocacy group in Martinsburg says there aren’t enough protections for union workers today. Chants like “workers rights are human rights” and calls for higher wages were heard outside of Shelley Moore Capito’s Martinsburg office to try and garner support from the West Virginia senator for the Protecting the Right to Organize or PRO Act.
John Christensen, President of the Eastern Panhandle Central Labor Council, explains union workers’ rights were created back in the 1930s and 1940s. However, they have been slowly retracted due to larger corporations. Christensen also claims that the Right to Work law in West Virginia would go away if the PRO Act passes.
“Over the years since the 70s, they’ve [the workers’ rights] eroded,” Christensen says. “Big corporations, they don’t like unions, so they’ve put in all these laws to protect them from keeping the union out.”
The Eastern Panhandle Central Labor Council usually focuses on issues that pass through the state legislature. However, they believe the issue of union workers’ rights has grown to become a national issue.
“We’ve lost so much over the last 50 years in 1970. It was 28% of the workforce was union 28% today, it’s 11%,” Christensen explains. “So we’ve lost all those people to private industry and they’re not covered by a union contract, and the union contract in my mind is the best way to go.”
Morgan Sell is an organizer for the Working Families Party who was more than willing to support the push for union workers’ rights. She believes that by not providing good-paying jobs and other benefits, the state is suffering.
“It’s not fair for the future generations of West Virginia and that’s why people are leaving, leaving the state. That’s why redistricting is happening in our state,” Sell says. “You know what I’ve seen in West Virginia is a cry for help, and it’s time for our representatives to be providing some resources and support to the people that have been powering this nation for many, many years.”
Senator Joe Manchin has already voiced his support for the PRO Act and co-sponsored the legislation in April. Now the Eastern Panhandle Central Labor Council is hoping Senator Capito will do the same.