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Warren Fiske
By Warren Fiske July 3, 2013
Nancy  Madsen
By Nancy Madsen July 3, 2013

Cuccinelli says McAuliffe opposes Virginia's right-to-work law

GOP gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli is painting Democratic rival Terry McAuliffe as a pawn of labor unions.

During a June 21 radio interview on WWRC 1260-AM, Cuccinelli dubbed his opponent "Union Terry" and said McAuliffe’s pro-labor stance goes beyond the bounds of most Democratic lawmakers in Virginia.

"He’s not even in the same place as most of his Democrats in the General Assembly," Cuccinelli said. "I mean, over three-fourths of them have supported the right-to-work, while he opposes it."

Few things are as sacred in Virginia politics as the right-to-work law, which bars compulsory union membership to hold a job. Virginia is among 24 right-to-work states and supporters have long argued the law spurs economic development and affirms personal freedom. It’s become a rite that successful statewide candidates in the Old Dominion -- Democrats and Republicans -- bow at the law’s altar.

McAuliffe expressed his fealty during a Jan. 21 speech before the National Federation of Independent Business. "We are a great right-to-work state," he said. "We should never change that. It helps us do what we need to do to grow our businesses here in Virginia."

So we asked Cuccinelli’s campaign for proof that McAuliffe "opposes" the right-to-work law and received a three-page response from spokeswoman Anna Nix.

Much of the response centered on a June 18 article in The Washington Post that said McAuliffe, during a visit to Northern Virginia, "declined to say whether he would protect the commonwealth’s status as a right to work state or search for ways to make the state more friendly toward organized labor."

McAuliffe’s quoted response in the article, however, says nothing negative about right-to-work.

"I’m going to work with management. I’m going to work with labor. I’m going to work with everybody to move Virginia forward," McAuliffe said. "It’s not ‘either-or.’ We are a right-to-work state that has been here for many years, and it’s not going to change. But the focus has got to be not on trying to divide folks. [It] is, how do we work together to grow the Virginia economy to have the most diverse economy to bring in those 21st-century jobs?"

At a June 20 news conference in Northern Virginia, McAuliffe was again asked whether he would try to "soften or weaken" the law. He replied, "Right-to-work has been the law here in Virginia for 65 years and I wouldn’t change it."

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Other backup sent by Cuccinelli’s campaign equated McAuliffe’s friendliness with unions as proof that he opposes the right-to-work law.

But that’s a flawed argument. "Just because he says, 'I don’t have a problem with union people,'  doesn’t mean he wants to do away with the right-to-work law," said James Meath, board chairman of Williams Mullen, a Richmond-based law firm. (Meath represents the Richmond Times-Dispatch in labor matters).

Cuccinelli's camp, for example, pointed us to a blog posted by the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers in spring 2010 discussing McAuliffe’s plans, which he later dropped, to open an electric car manufacturing plant in Virginia. "We’re going to have 2,000 folks down there -- all of them union members," McAuliffe said of his employment plan.

Meath said it’s legal for McAuliffe or anyone starting a Virginia business to contact a union and say, "Send me all your people; I’ll hire them." The right-to-work law merely states that the employer could not insist those workers remain in the union after they were hired, Meath said.

Cuccinelli, in laying his charge against McAuliffe during the radio interview, also noted that his opponent has supported collective bargaining for public workers and has received and has received "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in campaign donations from organized labor. These issues, however, do not compromise the right-to-work law.   

Our ruling

Cuccinelli said McAuliffe "opposes" the right-to-work law. He focuses on a June 18 news report that McAuliffe, during an interview, refused to defend right-to-work. But McAuliffe, in that article, did not criticize the popular law and was quoted as saying that right-to-work is "not going to change."

On at least two occasions prior to Cuccinelli’s attack, McAuliffe stated that he would not try to alter the law, which he said "helps grow our businesses here in Virginia."

Cuccinelli also makes a guilt-by-association argument, offering McAuliffe’s friendliness with unions as proof that he opposes right-to-work. But this, too, is a flimsy argument: It is entirely possible to support unions and the right-to-work law.

Cuccinelli fails to provide credible proof of his claim and we rate it False.

Our Sources

Ken Cuccinelli, "3/4 of VA Dems Support Right-To-Work; Why Not McAuliffe?"

National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, "Right to Work States: Virginia," accessed June 26, 2013.

National Journal, "Cuccinelli Stretches Labor Argument vs. McAuliffe," June 23, 2013.

YouTube, "Terry McAuliffe Says He Would Sign A Collective Bargaining Agreement As Governor," March 13, 2013.

Virginia Public Access Project, "Donations by Industry Reported by Terry McAuliffe Committees," accessed June 26, 2013.

Washington Post, "McAuliffe, at Silver Line station, touts support of project, says Cuccinelli fought it," June 18, 2013.

National Federation of Independent Business, "VIDEO: McAuliffe Tells NFIB He Supports Right-To-Work, Regulatory Reform," Jan. 22, 2013.

YouTube, "Terry McAuliffe Answers Questions from the Press," June 20, 2013.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Business, tech leaders question gubernatorial candidates," June 21, 2013.

Interview with James Meath, attorney and chairman of the board for Williams Mullen, June 28, 2013.

Virginia Public Access Project, Donations by industry reported by Terry McAuliffe committees, accessed June 28.

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