'Right-to-work' legislation stalls in Delaware legislature amid complaints of union busting

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DOVER, Delaware — Republican legislation allowing "right-to-work" zones in Delaware stalled in a Democratic-led Senate committee Wednesday amid complaints from organized labor that it is a union-busting measure.

Under the legislation sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Greg Lavelle, a person would not be required to join a labor union or pay union dues as a condition of employment in a right-to-work zone.

The state economic development director would be allowed to create a right-to-work zone when at least 20 new employees are to be hired by a manufacturing business. The manufacturer also would be exempt from paying the state gross receipts tax on businesses for the first five years of operations.

Supporters say the legislation is aimed at boosting economic development and reviving Delaware's manufacturing economy.

"The average wage of an auto worker in Delaware is zero, because there aren't any," said Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover. "The current situation is unacceptable."

Lavelle noted that Delaware has lost thousands of manufacturing jobs in recent years, and that many former manufacturing sites, including the former General Motors plant in Newport, remain idle.

"I view it as an economic development tool," he said of the bill.

David Stevenson of the Caesar Rodney Institute, a conservative public policy group, said job and wage growth in Delaware has lagged behind that of many other states and right-to-work status is a key consideration for companies looking for manufacturing sites.

"We're not trying to bust a union here. We're trying to grow Delaware's economy," he said.

But Democratic lawmakers remained skeptical, with Labor and Industrial Relations Committee chairman Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington, saying anything that would diminish unions would be "a setback."

Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, wondered whether the legislation, which no other state has, would comply with the National Labor Relations Act.

Greg Mourad, vice president of the Virginia-based National Right to Work Committee, said courts have struck down attempts by local governments to create right-to-work zones, but that state legislation enabling such zones could be permissible.

"I think we could make a pretty good case, ... because it is the action of the state that allows the creation of the right-to-work zone," Mourad said.

Supporters of the legislation include the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, New Castle County Chamber of Commerce and the Delaware Business Roundtable.

"This is a step in the right direction," said James DeChene, director of government relations for the state chamber.

Representatives of organized labor disagreed.

Doug Drummond of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said supporters of the legislation were misleading people and no company that moves to Delaware is required to have a union.

"It's the union's job to go out and organize," he said, adding that the legislation could hurt union finances, to the detriment mostly of Democrats.

James Maravelias, vice president of the Delaware AFL-CIO and head of the Delaware Building and Construction Trades Council, said the purpose of the legislation is "to bust unions."

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