Republican leaders are proposing legislation that would create zones in which workers could not be forced to join a union as a condition of employment.
Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, R-Milford; Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley; House Minority Leader Danny Short, R-Seaford; and House Minority Whip Deborah Hudson, R-Fairthorne, released the proposal Dec. 19, saying right-to-work zones would enhance competition, attract new businesses and create jobs.
Republican leaders say they are not trying to make Delaware a right-to-work state; instead, the bill would target areas in need of economic stimulus.
The former General Motors plant on Boxwood Road near Newport is one of the proposed right-to-work zone locations. The proposal also mentions portions of Wilmington and areas in Kent and Sussex counties as possible locations for right-to-work zones.
“Our economy has been stagnant for the last four or five years, so now is the time for a different approach,” Simpson said. “This represents, in our minds, one of the most unique and risk-free approaches to economic development to come out of Dover in a long, long time.”
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, Delaware’s employment in the manufacturing sector has remained flat the last 24 months while Indiana and Michigan, states that have passed right-to-work legislation, have seen gains over the same span.
Short said, “Seaford was once the Nylon Capital of the World. Those jobs are long gone now, and it’s no coincidence that more than half the kids attending Seaford schools qualify for subsidized meals.”
Rep. Steven Smyk, R-Milton, is former president of the Delaware State Troopers Association. He did not sign on to the proposal.
“I think it’s a great idea for certain organizations,” he said. For example, Smyk said, he would support a right-to-work zone for the plant on Boxwood Road.
“I wouldn’t support it everywhere,” he said.
In Smyk’s district, which encompasses Milton and Lewes, he said, “It would have to be case-by-case.”
Smyk agrees unions can hurt a start-up industry, but he said local unions are not as demanding as unions in Philadelphia or Detroit.
In the past, labor organizations in Sussex County have agreed to pay cuts to keep certain businesses open, he said. “Delaware’s labor unions are not as difficult as big city labor unions,” he said.
Labor law violations create the need for unions, Smyk said. “I think unions should be grown and managed by employees,” he said. “Not legislated.”
The General Assembly is scheduled to reconvene Tuesday, Jan. 14.