Labor and Right-to-Work Laws

Right to work laws give potential workers the ability to gain employment without having to join a union, or giving them a right to refrain from paying union dues.  One guesses that this latter concern is organized labor’s real reason for opposing these laws.

Currently, there are 26 states that are right-to-work (RTW) states.  The main argument against these laws is the so-called “free rider” problem- workers who benefit from collective bargaining agreements, but who pay nothing towards the negotiation and enforcement of those agreements.

This writer finds it ironic that the Left and the Democratic Party, under the broader rubric of the “pursuit of happiness” considers work and labor a fundamental right.  Yet, they then put up barriers towards those ends because it does not fit into their rendition of “the pursuit of happiness” which includes organized labor.  It is why they need to change the rules of the game through card check legislation, the union election ambush rule, and opposition to right-to-work legislation.  What they cannot win through the democratic legislative process, they attempt to win through regulation and rule-making by unelected officials.

Their opposition to RTW also is not based in reality.  Having RTW status in a state certainly does depress union membership, but does not eliminate unions as the Left tries to portray.  They view it as a war on workers which is typical of the Left to twist logic in their favor.  In RTW states, 13.62% of the workforce is unionized on average while in non-RTW states union membership stands at 7.07%.  The national average for union membership stands at 11.1% and 75% of non-RTW states exceed that average compared to only 11.5% of the 26 RTW states.

One of the biggest arguments of organized labor, the Left, the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton is that unions increase hourly wages.  However, based on statistics supplied by Governing- an online magazine- from 2007 to 2012 real wage growth in RTW states, when adjusted for inflation, was 1.53% compared to 0.12% in non-RTW states.  Those were figures over a 5-year period and the short-term figures show the same results.  Real growth in wages increased an average of 2.25% in RTW states compared to 1.75% in non-RTW states.  Despite having closed shops and despite the Left’s rhetoric that unions increase wages, we have a real world experiment proving the exact opposite.

Since we are talking about work, unemployment figures are also important.  Here, there is virtually no difference: the average unemployment rate in RTW states is 4.66% compared to non-RTW states at 4.78%- slightly higher, but not a major difference.  Regardless, only 30.8% of RTW states exceed the national average while 41.7% of non-RTW exceed the national unemployment rate.

Most importantly is net migration for the states- an indication of where people are moving and from where.  Other than perhaps retirement, job opportunity is the biggest reason people move from one state to another.  The Census Bureau has excellent statistics on this phenomena and it accounts for migration, not population growth which may be influenced by birth/death rates and foreign immigration- legal and illegal.  It is an important metric with political implications since US House seats are apportioned based on population.

These figures show that the national average is 1.39%.  The average migration rate for RTW states is 3.62% with over 65% of these states exceeding the national average.  Only 8 of 26 RTW states show a decline in net migration.  Conversely, only 33.3% of non-RTW states are above the national average with a net average migration rate of NEGATIVE 1.01%.  Fifteen of 24 non-RTW states actually show a negative migration rate with a 16th showing zero.  If jobs are a major reason for moving from state to state, RTW states have the clear advantage and will gain in political clout on Capitol Hill.  Three RTW states are in double digits- Arizona, Nevada and South Carolina.  New York, New Jersey and Illinois- three states with some of the highest union membership rates- show the biggest declines in net migration.

All these statistics add up to the fact that workers are voting with their feet and moving to states where union membership or paying union dues is not a prerequisite for work.  Even the Left’s arguments that unions increase wages only goes so far.  As proven, wage growth is larger and more common in RTW states WITHOUT unions.  Some of this may be attributable to growth in the energy sector which has traditionally high paying, non-union jobs.  However, that does not explain the superior wage growth figures in non-energy producing states also.

Is right to work status the panacea for solving unemployment and wage stagnation?  Perhaps no more than the Left’s argument that union membership increases wages.  That would be a best case scenario for organized labor.  Statistics show that a non-union worker makes 79 cents on the dollar compared to a union worker doing the same job.  What these figures show is that those seeking work are willing to forego that 21 cent difference for  a job and in many cases land one that pays higher than their previous employer.

Where unions are losing political power demographically through migration, they make up for it through union dues.  At one time, organized labor stated that 5% of all dues collected went for political purposes.  We have since discovered through court cases and discovery, the figure to be higher at no less than 15% and in some rare cases exceeding 25%.  In other words, one of the biggest complainers about money in politics- organized labor- is also one of the biggest offenders.  That is the definition of hypocrisy.

More importantly, it is the definition of a violation of free association.  Many times union worker dues are diverted to political causes of which the actual worker may be unaware or, equally important, may oppose.  While there may be opt-out mechanisms in place where a worker wishes a refund on union dues dedicated to political causes with which they disagree, the procedures are cumbersome and self-defeating to the point that the worker throws their hands up in defeat and disgust.  That was the whole point of the Friedrich’s case out of California this past Supreme Court term that ended in a 4-4 tie allowing the practice to continue.

At the very least, would it not be more democratic to have an opt-in procedure where a worker is permitted to retain that 15% of dues dedicated for political purposes?  Regardless, there is a ready-made mechanism for that called a political action committee where donations are made voluntarily by workers.

Organized labor’s opposition to right-to-work is predicated on shaky grounds devoid of statistical evidence that refutes their arguments.  It is undemocratic and designed only to enrich their coffers, not help workers.