In a party-line vote, a Republican-led Senate panel has cleared a push to make West Virginia the 26th right-to-work state.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the measure Friday to prohibit requiring paying union dues as a condition of employment.
Democrats and unions say the bill undermines unions without any clear benefit. Republicans say it's about worker freedom and trying to create jobs in one of the country's most struggling states.
On Friday, state Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said West Virginia should instead focus on addressing critical problems, including lack of flat land, infrastructure problems and an undereducated workforce.
Hundreds of union employees protested the legislation Wednesday at the Capitol, the first day of the 60-day legislative session.
The full Senate may vote on the bill next week.