As long as I’ve been following Ben Cline’s political career, in the General Assembly and the U.S. Congress, one constant has been his open hostility to labor unions.
In the General Assembly he was a fervent defender of Virginia’s anti-union “right to work” law and helped lead an unsuccessful push to enshrine that law in the Commonwealth’s constitution.
In Congress, Cline has supported an effort to impose right-to-work-for-less on workers across the country.
When he was named to the House Education and Labor Committee in 2019, Cline made clear his hostility to the labor movement.
He said, “The Democrats are going to put all kinds of labor union bills through and I’m anxious to stand up for the right of the worker”– as though the interests of labor unions and the interests of workers are at odds. He then explained what he really meant: “I don’t support forced unionism.”
But Cline really made his contempt for organized labor unmistakable in a speech on the House floor in 2020 denouncing the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would restore some balance to federal labor laws that make it all too easy for employers to thwart union organizing and to avoid dealing with the unions chosen by a majority of their workers.
On Labor Day 2022 in Buena Vista, Cline did what he always does on Labor Day in Buena Vista: emphasize that the only right he supports for workers in the right not to join a union.
But this time his Democratic opponent in the 2022 election, Jennifer Lewis, called him out for the union-basher he is.
So it was fascinating to watch Cline’s change of tone when interviewed at a Labor Day event that afternoon in Covington.
“Both cities [Buena Vista and Covington] have had long traditions of celebrating working man, working women, working families and the union effort. You know, unions have been important here in Covington, unions have been important in Buena Vista, have a history of providing important gains for working families.”
Wow, Congressman. What could possibly have changed your attitude toward unions in the course of one day? Could it have been your opponent’s stinging speech?
But then he added:
“[I]t’s important that we protect what working families have achieved so that it’s not taken away by more government, more regulation and more taxation.”
The fact that the labor unions he just praised have long supported laws that protect workers, both union and non-union, does not trouble him.
That’s the Ben Cline we know and don’t particularly love.