Guest Column — Arlett: Why we want right-to-work in Sussex County

Date Published: 
Nov. 17, 2017

Seaford used to be called “The Nylon Capital of the World,” with a DuPont plant that employed more than 4,600 people. Today, it often seems that we’re the capital of missed opportunities and lost jobs.

Employment growth in Delaware is essentially flat and has significantly lagged the national rate so far this year. A recent study by Atlas Van Lines found that our state had the fourth highest percentage of outbound moves.

Among the most popular reasons for the Delaware moves were high income taxes and a lack of jobs.

As a member of the Sussex County Council, it saddens me that we don’t have the job opportunities we once had to attract young people.

How can Delaware increase its employment opportunities, economic vibrancy, and ensure its best days are ahead? We can begin this process by passing right-to-work legislation, which gives employees the freedom to choose whether or not to become a dues-paying union member.

Delaware is one of 22 states without active right-to-work legislation, and it’s hard to deny that these laws play a role in attracting new jobs. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that between 1990 and 2014, total employment grew more than twice as fast in right-to-work states versus non-right-to-work states.

Consider Kentucky, where right-to-work began to spread at the county level in 2014 and was implemented statewide this year. Already in 2017, the state has reached nearly $6 billion in planned capital investment, which will bring 9,500 jobs. Gov. Matt Bevin has stated that right-to-work laws, along with the state’s infrastructure and geographical location, have been important factors.

On the other hand, forced unionization states, like Illinois, have been eliminated from Toyota and Mazda’s search for a 4,000-job assembly plant. That decision boiled down to two major factors: lack of shovel-ready job sites and the absence of a right-to-work law.

Right-to-work laws are not an overnight solution to spur economic growth. But like Illinois experienced this month, and Delaware has witnessed many times, right-to-work is always on the checklist when a company is considering a relocation or expansion. When BMW was looking to expand in the 1990s, Delaware lost out in part because it lacked right-to-work. Instead, the German car company selected South Carolina — a right-to-work state — and where it fuels more than 10,000 high-paying jobs today.

Right-to-work laws are sometimes portrayed as anti-union, but this simply is not true.

Union leaders such as United Auto Workers Vice President Gary Casteel have supported the concept: “People think right-to-work hurts unions. To me, it helps them. You don’t have to belong if you don’t want to. If you don’t think the system is earning its keep, then you don’t have to pay.”

Here in Sussex County, we understand that our state legislature and governor have no intention of pursuing right-to-work, and, frankly, we’re not willing to wait any longer. That’s why I introduced a countywide right-to-work proposal at the recent Sussex County Council meeting. Dover won’t act — but we can. And we hope policymakers, families and neighborhoods across the state hear our plea and join our movement.

We can increase employment opportunities and economic growth here in Sussex County. That starts by making Sussex County the first right-to-work region in the Northeast.