Delaware Rejects Right to Work
Sussex County Council votes no to becoming a right to work municipality
Today, Sussex County in Delaware overwhelming voted no to making the county right to work.
A proposed right-to-work ordinance was defeated by Sussex County Council on Tuesday.
Councilman Rob Arlett, who introduced the ordinance in October, was the only member of council who voted in favor of the measure, which was defeated by a 4-1 vote.
"If it has the ability to attract jobs to this county, then we should consider it and let the courts make their decision as they see fit," Arlett said.
Legal hurdles – and the costs associated with court battles – were the deciding factor that led to the demise of the proposed legislation, which would have exempted Sussex County from a long-standing state law that allows private businesses to require employees to either join or pay fees to a union.
“The bottom line is if we adopt this, we will be in litigation,” Councilman I.G. Burton said. “It is my sworn obligation to look after taxpayer dollars and how they will be spent. I do not believe most taxpayers approve of their money going toward fighting an unavoidable lawsuit.”
Burton, who cast the first vote against the ordinance, said he is ready to work with members of the General Assembly to pursue state-level right-to-work initiatives.
He said he’d rather focus on other ways to attract more jobs to southern Delaware, such as improving infrastructure and transportation.
“I would rather focus on these things I know we can do,” he said.
Initially Arlett wanted to defer a vote on the ordinance to allow for more time to digest a lengthy summary of County Attorney J. Everett Moore’s 11-page legal opinion on the matter.
“I think it would make sense to defer this for further review,” Arlett said, prompting a disapproving outburst from the audience. His motion died for a lack of support.
Before council defeated the measure, Moore outlined the legal reasons why, if adopted, the legislation would likely fail in a courtroom and possibly cost the county millions of dollars in legal fees.
“Just because some other county has [adopted right-to-work] that does not give Sussex County the automatic right to do that,” Moore said.
Proponents of the ordinance repeatedly cited a county-level right-to-work ordinance passed in Warren County, Kentucky, in 2014. Other Kentucky counties then followed suit, leading labor unions to file a federal lawsuit. A U.S. District Court judge struck down those local laws, but his ruling later was overturned by three judges on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“I remain committed that we have a problem with our home rule statute,” Moore said, referring to a state law that gives Sussex County the power to pass legislation. However, the home rule statute specifically excludes “the power to enact private or civil law concerning civil relationships,” referred to as the private rule exception.
The proposed right-to-work ordinance would regulate private contracts between employees, employers and unions – namely by prohibiting the requirement that someone join a union or pay fees in lieu of union membership as a condition of employment.
Moore said the county lacks the power to create such a law under the private rule exception in Delaware’s home rule statute.