Ordinance voted down earlier this week

The Sussex County Council voted 4-to-1 against Councilman Rob Arlett’s (R-District 5) right-to-work bill Jan. 9.

Introduced in October, it would have prohibited mandatory union membership or payment of union dues or fees as a condition of employment.

Arlett has already said he would consider reintroducing the ordinance in the future.

There was no shortage of union members and other opponents during a public hearing Jan. 2, and on the day of the vote. The public hearing drew five hours’ worth of commenters.

“I’ve been a union member since 1986, and I’m here in opposition to this right-to-work law,” said Bill Sharp of Ellendale. “I’m 63 years old. I never knew that I didn’t have the right to work in the United States of America.”

Jeff Carroll, of Milton, said union dues help take care of people like him.

“You have all these apprentices getting trained with this money and you have all these retirees being taken care of with this money,” he said. “It’s just a very important thing that I hope you don’t take lightly.”

Supporters were vocal too. Cathy Watts, of Milton, spoke for herself and represented the Sussex County Republican Women’s Club.

“The right to choose how we spend our hard-earned money and for whom we vote is the American way,” she said. “We do not have choices without right-to-work.”

However, something else largely determined the ordinance’s fate.

“It is my opinion that … the court will find that [Delaware law] prohibits the county from enacting this ordinance,” said Sussex County Attorney Everett Moore.

The Delaware Code expressly prohibits counties from regulating contracts in “civil relationships,” such as employer-employee or employer-union.

Arlett attempted to defer a vote in order to digest Moore’s opinion, but that was met by an audible groan from the audience and, when brought to a vote, the other council members declined to support it.

Arlett was the first to vote.

“I think, based on the testimony, that there’s plenty of organizations that support this … Quite a few people want this,” he said. “On the merits of economic development, and the fact that it is just about choice … I’m going to vote in favor of this.”

The other councilmen voted no.

Councilman I.G. Burton (R-District 3), said it invited a court battle.

“The bottom line is this: if we adopt this ordinance, we will be in litigation,” he said. “In all likelihood, these arguments would be heard in both the state and federal court, with litigation lasting for years to come. This will be very expensive and it will be very time consuming, and in my opinion it will be an unnecessary distraction.”

Burton also referenced the possible issues the ordinance could cause with the county’s insurance coverage, like higher premiums.

Council President Michael Vincent (R-District 1) echoed Burton, but Councilman George Cole (R-District 4) had a slightly different tune.

“I would personally, if I felt I could, vote for it,” he said. “But right now it appears that we do not have the legislative ability to do it.”