Even before the third month of the year is finished, there have already been major victories for advocates of increased worker freedom. For the first time, a majority of U.S. states are now right-to-work states. Adopting a right-to-work law – laws that protect workers from being forced to join a labor union as a condition of their employment – has always been the goal of policymakers seeking to reinvigorate their state’s economy and assert the rights of workers to decide for themselves whether or not they would like to join a labor union.
Just last month, West Virginia became the 26th state to adopt a right-to-work law. Though certainly some of the most significant news so far this year, this high profile victory has somewhat overshadowed the progress other states have made in fighting forced unionism. A few states have taken important steps in raising the issue and laying the groundwork for future efforts, even if they ultimately did not adopt a right-to-work law this session.
In 2015, the push for right-to-work in New Mexico ended after hours of testimony and its failure to pass the New Mexico Senate after it had already passed the New Mexico House of Representatives. In January of 2016, Governor Susana Martinez again pressed the legislature to pass a right-to-work law. Far from running away from the governor’s right-to-work agenda, the New Mexico Senate again took up the measure, only to have it tabled by the Senate Public Affairs Committee. Advocates for worker freedom in New Mexico know that the issue will not go away anytime soon and the momentum for New Mexico to adopt protections for workers who would prefer not to join a union is only building.
In late February, the Colorado Senate approved a bill to make Colorado the 27th right-to-work state. Although the measure has virtually no chance to make it through the Colorado House of Representatives and would certainly be vetoed by Governor John Hickenlooper if it did, the Senate’s passage of the measure is still a significant victory for advocates of worker freedom in Colorado. After several years of introducing right-to-work legislation, this marks the first time that the measure has been passed by one of the legislative bodies and symbolizes significant momentum in the push to protect workers from forced unionization. With this victory, right-to-work advocates in Colorado have reason to be optimistic about the measure’s future.
This should not really be all that surprising, though. Nationally, right-to-work laws are very popular, with 71 percent of Americans supporting such laws and only 22 percent opposing them. In addition to enjoying widespread support, right-to-work laws are also associated with much higher levels of economic growth. From 2003 to 2013, right-to-work states experienced non-farm payroll employment growth of 8.6 percent, more than double the 3.7 percent from the forced unionism states. In the same time frame, right-to-work states outperformed the forced unionism states in both gross state product growth (58.8 percent to 44.3 percent) and personal income growth (57.9 percent to 45.8 percent).
As the 2016 legislative sessions continue and voters look to November, expanding worker freedom and boosting economic growth will certainly be one of the issues on their minds. With more than half of U.S. states already adopting a right-to-work law, the pressure on the remaining states will only intensify. Forced unionism is losing ground and advocates for worker freedom are poised to continue the recent string of successes in defending individual rights.
Crossposted at www.alec.org.
Ben Wilterdink is director of Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development policy at the American Legislative Exchange Council.