Local unions oppose proposed right to work laws in Seaford, county

By Lynn R. Parks

Rick Fridell doesnt believe that the right-to-work law proposed by the city of Seaford and by the Sussex County Council will bring jobs to the area.

Where are all these corporations that they say will come here?, asked Fridell, business representative at the Bridgeville office of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Union 126. I want to see the contracts that they have signed. Land is cheap here, labor is cheap, so why arent companies already here? Because they are in Vietnam, where they only pay their employees $9 a week.

Fridell, whose union has about 600 members on the Delmarva Peninsula, does predict one ramification from the increasing number of states that are passing right-to-work laws. Unions will become weaker, he said. And that, he added, is the true motivation behind the laws.

Corporations are always looking to find ways to make more money, he said. If employers dont have to pay for employee medical benefits, for example, retirement or workers compensation, they are able to pad their bottom lines. And those things that companies dont want to pay for are the same things that unions support, Fridell said.

We are fighting for the rights of everybody, not just our workers, added Tony Bianchini, spokesman for the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, which has an office in Georgetown and about 1,000 members in Delaware. Labor Day, the 40-hour week and the five-day week are all things that we have because of unions.

Current battles on the national level include keeping the National Labor Relations Board and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration funded and making sure that people who work more than 40 hours a week are paid overtime.

Sussex County introduced An ordinance relating to the promotion of economic development and commerce by regulation of certain involuntary payments required of employees at the Oct. 24 meeting of the county council. A nearly identical ordinance, with the same title, had its first reading last week at the Nov. 28 meeting of the Seaford City Council. The city ordinance is scheduled for a second reading and a vote at the next meeting, Tuesday, Dec. 12.

Both proposals say that employees cannot be forced to be members of unions, and cannot be forced to pay any dues, fees, assessments or other charges of any kind or amount to a labor organization.

Federal law already says that employees cant be forced to belong to unions. But if employees ask a union to intercede on their behalf, or if they benefit from collective bargaining done by the union, the union can require them to pay for the costs of that action. The so-called agency fee does not include the costs of any political activity that the union might engage in.

Under right-to-work laws, employees can opt out of those costs. According to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, when the union isnt paid for the work that it does on behalf of employees, that creates an economic drain. As a consequence, unions are weakened, the IBEW says.

Both Fridell and Bianchini said that they believe that the county law is illegal. In a letter to the county council, State Solicitor Aaron R. Goldstein said that the county ordinance cannot withstand judicial scrutiny. Goldstein added, Under current state law, we believe that only the Delaware General Assembly has the authorityto enact private or civil law concerning civil relationships in this context.

The IBEW union intends to fight the county proposal if it becomes law, Fridell said. Members of the Council of Carpenters have already attended meetings of the Sussex County Council to voice their opposition and will contact the city of Seaford to do the same, Bianchini said.

In defending the city proposal last week, Mayor David Genshaw said that the ordinance is not an anti-union action, but rather a pro-development act.

This will give us an opportunity to grow business, to attract businesses that want to be in a right-to-work area, he said. We want Seaford to be an option for all businesses, union and non-union. The vast majority of people believe that this is the right thing to do.

He hasnt talked with any of my members, Fridell countered. He hasnt talked with me. These laws are an attempt to undermine unions, and we are the only organizations that stand up for working people. If we arent out there, who going to do that?

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