Right-to-work law introduced in Sussex County

DOVER — Sussex County Council introduced a controversial ordinance Tuesday that would enact right-to-work laws in the county and voted to limit firearm possession in county buildings.

Right-to-work laws prohibit employees from being forced to join unions. They exist in 28 states, but attempts to bring them to Delaware have been soundly rejected by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.

The Sussex measure, which drew 21 public speakers last week, was not voted on by the council at the body’s latest meeting. About 17 people, a majority opposed to the proposal, spoke Tuesday.

The ordinance was revised after the county attorney raised concerns over its constitutionality last week, but even with the changes it may not be legal. Until a 2016 ruling by a federal court, it was generally thought local governments were prohibited from enacting right-to-work laws, Sussex County’s attorney Everett Moore told council members.

The court that made the decision does not have jurisdiction over Delaware, however, and the legality remains unclear.

David Stevenson, a member of the conservative Caesar Rodney Institute, said two organizations have offered to represent the county pro bono in the event of a legal challenge and called on the county to “stop finding ways to delay the ordinance.”

Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, is opposed to right-to-work, a spokesman said. The spokesman said the governor’s office has not researched the constitutionality of one county passing right-to-work laws.

Supporters on Tuesday said right-to-work gives employees “the right to choose” and will draw businesses to Sussex. Others protested it will lead to lower wages and fewer rights for workers.

“The manufacturing sector in our economy is essentially gone,” Bob Lawless said. “I think we have to take whatever steps are reasonable for us to bring back that sector, and it seems to me right-to-work is a first step.”

Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Laurel, said the measure would boost the economy in western Sussex County, which has struggled in recent decades: A majority of students in the Seaford and Laurel school districts come from low-income families.

The departure of DuPont, which once ran a booming nylon plant in Seaford, was a major blow to the county’s western half.

Sen. Richardson pointed to a South Carolina BMW factory that he said might have been built in Delaware if the state had right-to-work laws, arguing the First State was missing out on tens of thousands of jobs.

But Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 member Richard King said unions offer many benefits to employees.

“There’s no comparison” to non-union workers, he said. “As I said, we’re better trained, we’re more skilled, we have a better way of life.”

Vincent Ascione, a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 542, took a similar stance, arguing unions help prevent companies from taking advantage of workers.

“Right-to-work tears at the very fabric our country was built on,” he said.

Employees already have the right to choose, Mr. Ascione said, noting a company does not become unionized unless a majority of its employees vote to do so.

Right-to-work tends to be backed by Republicans, and with all five members of County Council belonging to the GOP, the measure’s chances appear relatively strong.

A public hearing on the proposal will be scheduled before any vote is taken.

Firearm ban

Council members voted unanimously to ban guns from county buildings with some exceptions.

The ordinance restricts firearms from buildings “where a county government entity meets in its official capacity or containing the offices of elected officials and of public employees actively engaged in performing governmental business.” Law enforcement officers and individuals with Delaware concealed carry permits are among those exempt from the measure.

Officials said the statute is necessary to keep security strong in government offices.

“I just think the world has changed and we have to change with it,” 3rd District Councilman Irwin G. Burton said.

The Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association, the local affiliate of the National Rifle Association, did not object to the ordinance.

During the public comment portion, Dan Kramer blasted the proposal, calling it contrary to Republican values.

“What are you going to do when the little old lady comes flying through that door and asks to use the bathroom and she’s doing a little dance?” Mr. Kramer asked, questioning if security would still make her go through a metal detector.

“I hope she craps all over you,” he said.

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