County council introduces ‘right-to-work’ ordinance

Date Published: 
Nov. 3, 2017

Following a long public comment session last week, residents returned to the Sussex County Council chambers on Oct. 31 to voice their opinions regarding right-to-work legislation proposed by County Councilman Rob Arlett.

The packed room, leaving many attendees standing, was also filled with workers sporting their union shirts.

The proposed ordinance, if passed, would “prohibit certain union matters in private sector employment, including prohibition of mandatory union membership and payment of union dues or fees as condition of employment; involuntary union pay deductions; and acts of coercion related to union support…” with the purpose of promoting “economic development and worker freedom within Sussex County.”

Ocean View resident Bob Lawless said he was in favor of the ordinance.

“For most of my life, I have been lectured by people concerning the right to choose. We have the right to choose our elected officials. We’re told consistently that people have the right to choose what happens with their body… Except when it comes to unions — we don’t have the right to choose. People are required as a condition of employment in some areas of the private sector to join the union…”

Lawless called attention to the lack of manufacturing companies in the state and said he believes officials need to take steps to bring back that sector.

“Young people entering the workforce do not automatically want to join a union for representation,” he said. “We should not have to compel people to join unions.”

David Stevenson of the Caesar Rodney Institute, a Delaware-based conservative think-tank “committed to protecting individual liberty,” also voiced his support of the proposed ordinance.

Stevenson said that, according to CRI’s research, there are five legal opinions that support that Sussex County has the right to pass the legislation locally, and that they have found two organizations willing to cover the legal expenses the council was warned by its attorney last week are already being incurred and would be incurred by the County going forward if the legislation was passed and, as predicted, challenged.

“The voters are watching… It’s time for the council to stop finding ways to delay this ordinance and start working actively to schedule this public hearing on right-to-work.”

Cathy Watts, president of the Sussex County Republican Women’s Club, said right-to-work legislation is needed in the county to help with employment, particularly in western Sussex.

State Sen. Bryant Richardson, who spoke at the Oct. 24 meeting in favor of the legislation, presenting a letter of support from state Sens. Gary Simpson, Brian Pettyjohn and Gerald Hocker, said he believes right-to-work is the best move for the county.

“The unemployment rate in Sussex County has been declining… It is a known fact that, at one time, Delaware was considered as a possible site of a BMW plant. That plant went to South Carolina, a right-to-work state,” Richardson said.

“Some of you have heard already that the average wages at that plant are just under $40 an hour. What a boost that would have been to Delaware’s economy… Sussex County can either take the logical step to become right-to-work, or continue to lose out to states that already are prospering under right-to-work.”

However, James Maravelias, president of Delaware Building Trades, called the proposed legislation an example of social injustice and racism in the county.

“The unions in Delaware, under the leadership of many behind me, have increased by 2.5 to 3 percent in Delaware. Nobody’s forced them. The company that was quoted that was going to leave because of right-to-work is a union company…”

Maravelias’ comments were met with applause from some of those in attendance.

Vincent Ascione, speaking on behalf of the Delaware members of the Operating Engineers, said that, most of the time, employees seek the unions for help for various reasons, including pay, diversity, safety and general conditions on the worksite.

“It’s done under a democratic process. The right-to-work is wrong, because it tears at the very fabric our country was built on… Right-to-work denies the majority their voice. It goes to an election. If those people decided to become union, they become union. If they do not want to be union, they do not become union. That’s how it works. Unions are not evil.”

John Rodriquez, a Seaford resident and real estate agent, noted that when he attended the Sussex County Today & Tomorrow Conference on Oct. 25, he had been able to view a presentation by former DEDO analyst Ed Simon.

“Some of that includes, back in 2012, unemployment was as high as 7.2 percent. In 2017, we’re at about 4.7 percent, about a tenth of a point to the state and also national average… Sussex County is doing something right. What problem are we trying to fix here?”

He went on to ask the council to leave the county a union-friendly place to work.

“Mr. Arlett, I think you should be ashamed of yourself, regarding attacking working families in the U.S. — particularly here in Sussex County. If you would like for Sussex County to continue to grow, we should leave it a pro-union town.”

Selbyville resident Eric Masten, who opposed the proposed legislation, said right-to-work would hurt business and workers, as he said it will create less of an expendable income for working families. He added that more people would likely seek public assistance.

“I look for an improved and better Sussex County without this awful law.”

Rick Fridell spoke on behalf of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents employees of Delmarva Power, Delaware Electric Co-Op, Amtrak and other companies in Delaware.

“All working people have one voice, and it’s through unions,” he said. “Workers currently have the choice to pay dues or be in the union right now… If the board is concerned about constituents paying dues for representation they don’t want, then taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for representation they don’t want to pay for.

“Sussex County has one of the lowest union densities in the United States,” Fridell noted. “This is just a Republican assault on working people in Sussex County, and the IBEW and its Delaware members will fight this every step of the way,” he said.

U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Richard King, a member of Sheet Metal Workers Local Union 19, said he willingly left in the third year a four-year apprenticeship program with the State of Delaware to join the union.

“I learned more in that first year than I did in three years with the State apprentice program. I was better trained, more skilled, better qualified. I also live in Lewes. I couldn’t live in Lewes working the non-union sector. I couldn’t walk out my door, see the canal, see the boats going up and down, without being a proud union member. Working both sides of the fence, there’s no comparison.”

King said right-to-work will hurt everyone.

“Gentlemen, all I can say is, ‘United we bargain, divided we beg,’ and I’m no beggar.”

Arlett, who had initially had the ordinance drafted without consulting County solicitors, officially introduced the ordinance this week, after having been stopped from doing so last week. The proposed legislation will now be placed on a future council agenda for a public hearing and possible vote.

Council prohibits firearms in County buildings

In other County news, the council voted unanimously on Wednesday to amend the county code to prohibit the possession of firearms within County buildings, unless the owner has a concealed-carry permit. County Administrator Todd Lawson said the County has been focused on the safety of its employees, and has received support from many in favor of the ordinance.

He noted that the County has hired additional security staff for the building, and if the code is amended, will place a magnetometer at the entrance of the building.

Greenwood resident Dan Kramer said placing a magnetometer at the entrance will not necessarily stop a threat.

“People will always find a way to do evil things,” he said. “By removing guns, that’ll make it more dangerous.”

He also asked what would happen if a “little old lady comes flying through the door, having to use the bathroom…”

“Any good Republican wouldn’t vote for this,” he said.

Jeff Hag, representing the Delaware State Sportsman Association and the NRA for Delaware, said the organizations are not opposed to the change.

“We understand the reasons why the county council feels it’s necessary to adopt this ordinance. It’s unfortunate we have to go this far in this day and age, but we know things have changed,” he said.

The amendment was approved with a vote of 5-0. Councilman I.G. Burton said, “I think the world has changed, and we have to change with it.”

The magnetometer was expected to be installed and working by Monday, Nov. 6. The device will cost around $6,000, which was budgeted. County personnel, staff and elected/appointed officials who have County-issued identification cards will not be subject to screening, as long as they have their valid ID card.