Sussex Council needs to stop right to work

October 31, 2017

Sussex County Council continues its misguided efforts to enact a county-specific right-to-work ordinance believing it will magically unlock economic development in Delaware’s most rural county.

Out-of-state special-interest groups and local supporters, many times with irrational exuberance, point to a Federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals verdict affirming a Kentucky county’s legal authority to pass a right-to-work ordinance as a green light for Sussex County to do the same.

These same out-of-state groups then offer, as further evidence that this policy would be appropriate for Sussex, distorted data on right-to-work laws’ economic and social impact. They also conveniently omit that most businesses consistently cite lack of infrastructure, easy access to interstate highways, and regulations as the greatest impediments to further economic development, while a right-to-work law is regularly a lesser priority.

Despite these facts, Sussex County Council proceeded to discuss the possible introduction of a right-to-work ordinance at its Oct. 24 meeting. During the meeting, the county council’s attorney addressed the 6th Circuit Court’s ruling and stated that its ruling is not binding outside of the 6th Circuit. Since the State of Delaware is in the 3rd Circuit, Sussex County cannot rely on the 6th Circuit Court’s decision as legal justification to proceed.

Second, when asked publicly to offer a legal opinion on the proposed ordinance, county council’s attorney stated that Sussex County Home Rule Charter does not give Sussex County Council the authority to enact a county-specific right-to-work ordinance. He further explained that if Sussex County Council proceeds, the ordinance will likely be subject to multiple federal and state court challenges, and an immediate injunction halting its implementation until the courts resolve the issue.

Then, when the topic of costs to defend this ordinance was raised, county officials reported that under its insurance policy there is a $250,000 deductible for legal fees. Plus, the county’s insurance company has a “right of review” prior to assuming legal fees beyond the deductible amount. That means that Sussex County taxpayers would be responsible for a quarter of a million dollars in legal fees before the insurance company might pick up the rest of the tab.

If economic development were that important to Sussex County Council, wouldn’t a minimum of $250,000 of taxpayer money be put to better use by offering small businesses loans or improving the county’s infrastructure? Instead, members of Sussex County Council are ready to waste Sussex County taxpayer dollars on legal fees to defend failed economic development ideas - imported from states like Mississippi and Alabama - that have lowered real wages, decreased spending on education, and weakened worker safety rules. Sussex County should reverse course now on pursuing this ill-advised policy.

James Maravelias, president
Delaware State AFL-CIO

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