Return of union lobbyist to state post a ‘slap in the face,’ senator says

BLACK: State Sen. Richard Black says is concerned about the future of right to work laws in Virginia.

By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

RICHMOND, Va.— Appointing a union lobbyist commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry is a “slap in the face for Virginia business,” one state senator says.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s pick, Carlton “Ray” Davenport, was a registered lobbyist for the Virginia AFL-CIO from December 2010 until this month, according to lobbying disclosures available from the Virginia Public Access Project. Before his time as AFL-CIO treasurer and secretary, Davenport served in the same commissioner capacity under Democratic governors Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. Earlier in his career, Davenport worked with the International Union of Operating Engineers, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

“I think that appointing an AFL-CIO lobbyist as commissioner of the department is a slap in the face for Virginia business,” said Republican Sen. Richard Black, a staunch supporter of right-to-work laws who has tried to enshrine them into the state’s constitution.

The AFL-CIO donated $20,000 to McAuliffe’s 2013 gubernatorial campaign and has given more than $550,00 total to Democratic candidates since 2010. VPAP says Davenport focused on “issues affecting workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation and labor law.”

As commissioner, Davenport is responsible for overseeing labor and employment laws under Maurice Jones, Virginia’s secretary of Commerce and Trade. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General investigated Jones concerning violations of anti-lobbying policies.

Virginia’s status as a right-to-work state matters, Black said.

“The right-to-work laws really protect basic freedom,” Black said. “Workers are free to unionize if they want, but they’re not compelled to be members of unions. To me, that’s a basic human right to be free of forced unionization. What we find is that the majority of workers do not want to be forced into a union. And it makes states with right-to-work laws much more favorable for business. So you have many more jobs created in right to work states than you do compulsory union states.”

Davenport didn’t respond to Watchdog.org’s requests for an interview about his appointment and stance on right-to-work laws.

Davenport’s appointment, against the backdrop of McAuliffe’s broader ties to labor unions, has Black worried about the future of right-to-work laws in the state.

“I think Governor McAuliffe is sending a clear signal that if the choice is jobs or unions he’ll favor unions first,” Black said. “ … I think it’s a signal that the Democrats are moving hard to the left on union issues, and I don’t know how much support we’re going to see from the Democratic Party on right-to-work if the governor is going to be putting union lobbyists in positions.”

Black helped fend off attempts to require union contracts for the Silver Line Metro in Northern Virginia, and he succeeded.

“We succeeded because Governor McDonnell supported me,” Black said. “It’s clear with McAuliffe’s ties with the unions that he would not do the same.”

Even enshrining right-to-work laws in Virginia’s Constitution may not even do any good, Black said.

“Normally, having (laws) in the constitution should be sort of a strong line of defense, but the Democrats have now started to nominate attorneys general who refuse to enforce the law, and we’re seeing that with Mark Herring where he’s refused to defend the constitution on the marriage amendment,” Black said.

Perhaps there’s nothing to fear, according to Delegate Richard Bell, another Republican lawmaker who has tried to strengthen Virginia’s right-to-work laws.

“I fully expect Mr. Davenport, the governor and the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry to honor Virginia’s right to work law,” Delegate Richard Bell said in an email to Watchdog.org.

— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter with Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau, and can be reached at kwatson@watchdog.org.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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