by Rick Howell
Monday, February 1, dawned unusually warm as a team of UFCW Local 400 activists walked from the Richmond Marriott to the state legislature to participate in this year’s “Lobby Day” activities.
Each General Assembly session, the Virginia AFL-CIO invites activists from various labor unions to help make the case to lawmakers for that year’s labor agenda.
Many Virginia legislators, Democrat and Republican, are determined that the state’s “right-to-work” law wind up in the Constitution of Virginia. They passed that measure last year, and would like to see it pass in 2016 and be on the ballot this fall.
However, as UFCW activists discussed this with lawmakers, there was talk about moving it to 2017, to avoid “long lines” at the polls in a presidential race. This prompted Virginia AFL-CIO President Doris Crouse-Mays to say “If they’re worried about long lines, why don’t we have early voting?”
Our activists watched as the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee killed a bill that would have raised the minimum wage. This happened in spite of testimony from one woman, who asked: “Have any of you had your water turned off, because you paid the gas bill? Or had your gas turned off when you paid the water bill, because you couldn’t pay both?”
Her questions were met with silence. Once again, the GOP-controlled Virginia legislature was refusing to respond to the needs of hardworking men and women struggling to make ends meet.
Nevertheless, it was an opportunity to show our presence as an organized labor force in a state long run by businessmen. Some legislators, including Sen. John Edwards, Del. Charniele Herring, Del. David Toscano, and Del. Jeion Ward, met with our delegation and we had the opportunity to thank them for their long support of organized labor.
The fight against “right to work” and the struggle to raise the minimum wage will continue in Virginia, and UFCW Local 400 will be there!
Rick Howell, pictured on the left, is a UFCW Local 400 member from Roanoke, Virginia, where he has worked for Kroger for many years. Rick is also a writer and journalist. You can read his regular column in The Bedford Bulletin.