But labor has also suffered several political defeats during that time. Of the estimated $344,000 spent by unions on election ads ahead of the Nov. 6 vote, for instance, 42 percent targeted races in which their candidates lost. Another 30 percent provided mixed results, paying for ads promoting multiple candidates that included some who lost.
West Virginia AFL-CIO President Kenny Perdue said lawmakers have long discussed both right-to-work and prevailing wage. Perdue does not expect the latter to become a major issue next session. As for right-to-work, Perdue said the furor that has surrounded its passage in Michigan may give West Virginia legislators pause.
"I do expect it to be brought up with a little more force,'' Perdue said. "But I believe people will see there are other issues to focus on. I think people will decide there are more important things to do than to cause a fight that would reflect negatively on the legislative process.''
Michigan is the 24th state that has made it illegal to require nonunion employees to pay unions for negotiating contracts, representing them in grievances and other services. Supporters argue right-to-work attracts employers, creating jobs, while also providing workers with a choice regarding union membership.
Critics warn the real goal is to starve unions of funds, hobbling their effectiveness. While each side cites studies in support of their positions, other experts say the impact of right-to-work is unclear.
Surprise helped mark the law's fast-paced passage in Michigan earlier this month. Gov. Rick Snyder had repeatedly insisted during his first two years in office that right-to-work was not on his agenda.
But the Republican reversed course following the election, signing the right-to-work measures hours after they cleared the GOP-controlled Legislature there. Republicans likely chose to press ahead with right-to-work during their postelection lame-duck session as their majority in the Michigan House will narrow next year after losing five seats in November.
Michigan ranks 5th for the portion of its workforce represented by unions, at 18.3 percent, according to 2011 BLS figures. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce endorsed right-to-work's passage there.
West Virginia chamber President Steve Roberts said right-to-work appears a more prominent issue in states heavy in manufacturing. The chamber is more focused on workforce training and workplace safety issues, including measures targeting drug abuse.
"The West Virginia chamber does not look for it to be an issue this session,'' Roberts said of right-to-work.