August 19, 2016
By Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
Williamsburg, VA – Barely 5% of Virginia workers belong to labor unions, but membership grew by more than 10% last year, as 23,000 joined—and that has organizers optimistic.
“Sometimes, in the day to day, you don't see it, but from the 20,000-foot view, Virginia's looking good,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Aug. 12 at the state federation’s convention here. Union gains in the last year include organizing shipyard engineers at Newport News Shipbuilding and 470 workers at the Nestle’s plant in Danville, as well as better contracts for workers at Verizon and the Kroger grocery chain. "I think people are getting fed up with being beaten up," said Matt Yonka, president of the Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Council. "Just this morning, I was talking to a guy at a nonunion shop about pay and benefits and he said if he'd known that, he'd have signed up 20 years ago.” About one-fifth of the 258,000 Virginia workers represented by unions don’t pay dues, because the state’s 1947 “right to work” law says they don’t have to. Current organizing campaigns in the state include auto-parts plants. Read more