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RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – North Carolina Rep. Jon Hardister, who is seeking the Republican nomination for labor commissioner in 2024, wants you to endorse of the idea of making North Carolina a “right-to-work state.”

North Carolina already has a law specifying that status, but Hardister, the House Republican whip from Whitsett who has represented Guilford County since 2012, has filed House Bill 614 to create a constitutional amendment that would make the status more difficult to change.

N.C. Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford County) (Courtesy of Jon Hardister)
N.C. Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford County) talks with a worker. (Courtesy of Jon Hardister)

There are about 26 states that have right-to-work status, which means that employment can’t be based on whether a person joins or declines to join a union. Ten of those states have constitutional amendments to secure the designation, Hardister said in announcing his bill.

North Carolina has been a “right to work state” by statute since 1947, when Chapter 95 of the Department of Labor’s regulations included this language: “It is hereby declared to be the public policy of North Carolina that the right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in any labor union or labor organization or association.”

“This is not an anti-union bill,” Hardister said in a release about the bill. “This is an effort to support workers and preserve our status as a right-to-work state.”

“Right-to-work laws empower workers by providing them with more choices over how they wish to spend their income. No one should be forced to join or pay dues to an organization. If a labor union does an effective job representing employees, then workers will join them voluntarily and support their cause.”

HB 614, which Hardister filed Thursday, would need 72 votes in the House and 30 votes in the Senate – as of last week, Republicans control those supermajorities in both chambers – to be placed on the ballot for voters. Hardister wants the vote to be during the 2024 General Election, when turnout should be heavy because of the presidential election.

State Rep. Ben Moss (R-Moore)

One of Hardister’s colleagues in the House, Rep. Ben Moss (R-Moore), is also his opponent for the Labor nomination, and he doesn’t support the bill.

“As a conservative Republican, I am opposed to Jon’s proposed ‘right to work’ amendment, because I believe in individual freedom and the importance of fostering a competitive business environment,” Moss said in a statement sent via text by his spokesperson to WGHP. “I believe that businesses should have the flexibility to negotiate with their workforce as they see fit, and that employees should have the right to choose whether or not to join an organized workplace.”

Political divide

Right-to-work long has been controversial, with Republicans generally supporting the status and Democrats generally opposing.

The dichotomy of that controversy played out in two elections last November. Voters in Illinois approved a constitutional amendment to guarantee residents the right to join a union, and voters in Tennessee approved an amendment to guarantee the right-to-work status.

And on March 24 in Michigan, where auto unions are powerful, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill to repeal the state’s right-to-work law next year, making it the first state to remove a law on the books.

If Hardister’s bill should lead to an adopted amendment, then removing that status in North Carolina would require the same process of ratifying a constitutional amendment to replace it. So a different set of lawmakers would have to pass another bill, and voters would have to approve it again.

Voters in 2018 approved a slate of constitutional amendments, but one of them, the voter ID law, was set aside by the NC Supreme Court because of the legality of the bill that created the amendment. But the Republican-majority court seated in January recently reconsidered that ruling but has yet to reveal its decision.

Starbucks employees strike outside their store in Mesa, Arizona. They have voted to unionize. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

Union membership varies

Based on data released in January by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership nationally is at 10.1%, for 2022, down from 10.3% in 2021. Public-sector membership was at 33.1%, more than five times higher than the private sector (6%).

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BLS said that in North Carolina, there were 4,409 union employees in 2022, about 2.8% of the workforce. That’s the 10th-highest total nationally and up from 4,225 in 2021. By contrast, Virginia has 3,906 union workers, and South Carolina has 2,050.

“The growth that we have seen in the private sector is a direct result of what we have done to keep taxes low, invest in education and minimize regulations,” said Hardister, who is joined by two other Republicans from the Triad, Kyle Hall (R-Stokes) and Larry Potts (R-Davidson), and Rep. Destin Hall (R-Davidson) as primary sponsors of HB 614. “Our right-to-work laws have played a role in this success by making our State more attractive for workforce development. This has resulted in more job opportunities and enhanced upward mobility for workers in our state.”

Because the House is on Easter vacation until Monday afternoon, Hardister’s bill has not been formally introduced or assigned to a committee. State Rep. Ashton Clemmons (D-Greensboro), the No. 2 Democrat in the House, did not respond immediately to a text message seeking comment about the bill.