Sussex County Council votes down right-to-work ordinance


DOVER — Sussex County Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to reject a right-to-work ordinance, citing concerns the county cannot legally enact the proposal.

The vote ends a months-long debate about the issue, which had generated strong passions on both sides. Both the state solicitor and the county’s attorney had opined Sussex could not pass right-to-work on its own, meaning a vote in favor would have led to a legal challenge from the state.

Right-to-work laws, enacted in 28 states, prevent a worker from being forced to join a union as a condition of employment. Supporters say they are desired by businesses and give employees the power of choice, but opponents counter they will lead to the destruction of unions and a shift in power in the employee-employer relationship.

The proposal was backed by several business organizations, including the State Chamber of Commerce, and opposed by labor unions.

While efforts by Delaware lawmakers to push right-to-work laws in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly have failed, backers of the ordinance hoped the political leanings of County Council — all five members are Republicans — would carry the day. Only the sponsor of the measure voted for it, however, although Councilman George Cole did say he would have supported the proposal if he thought the county had legal authority to ratify it.

More than 40 people spoke on right-to-work at a public hearing last week, with a majority expressing opposition, and many of those same attendees were present Tuesday.

Councilman Rob Arlett, the driving force behind the measure, urged his fellow members of County Council to pass it, describing the proposal as “a tool in that toolbox” for Sussex to grow the economy.

“If it has the ability to attract jobs to this county, we ought to consider it and let the courts make their decision as they see fit,” he said.

But other members wished to avoid a fight in the courts.

“I do not believe most taxpayers approve of their money going toward fighting an unavoidable lawsuit,” Councilman I.G. Burton said.

Others agreed, while a few also expressed skepticism about how much a right-to-work law would help the county.

Council President Michael Vincent said he had never heard from any of approximately 20 companies that supposedly supported the ordinance, while Mr. Burton noted the county can invest in non-controversial areas like infrastructure to attract businesses.

“I firmly believe other factors … all outrank right-to-work for companies looking to relocate to Sussex County,” Mr. Burton said. “These factors we can affect now, with or without right-to-work.”

Mr. Vincent also spoke critically of the way the ordinance was presented, admonishing Mr. Arlett for introducing it with little prior notice.

“That’s not how we do business here,” he said.

Afterward, Mr. Arlett said he was disappointed with his fellow councilmembers for voting based on “fear of litigation.” He noted Seaford Town Council approved an ordinance last month that makes the town a right-to-work zone. The legal status of that action is unknown.

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