Workers should have the right to decide for themselves whether or not they want to join or fund a union without fear of losing their jobs. With the recent adoption of a right-to-work law in Missouri, 28 states now protect that freedom.
Though lawmakers in Missouri moved quickly to accomplish this, Kentucky lawmakers already edged them out for the distinction of being the first state to adopt a right-to-work law in 2017. These achievements come on the heels of West Virginia, which adopted a right-to-work law in 2016. Over the past several years, states once considered to be union strongholds such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana have all adopted their own right-to-work laws and states like New Hampshire are actively considering it.
This is the right-to-work watershed.
To most observers, this should be relatively unsurprising. A 2014 Gallup survey found that 71 percent of Americans support right to work, while just 22 percent oppose it. In a separate survey conducted by National Employee Freedom Week in 2016, nearly 30 percent of current union members said that they would opt-out of union membership if it were possible to do so without losing their job or any other sort of penalty.asionally support right-to-work. Speaking with the Washington Post in 2014, then-southern regional director for the United Auto Workers, Gary Casteel, remarked that he preferred organizing union membership in right-to-work states:
So if I go to an organizing drive, I can tell these workers, ‘If you don’t like this arrangement, you don’t have to belong.’ Versus, ‘If we get 50 percent of you, then all of you have to belong, whether you like to or not.’ I don’t even like the way that sounds, because it’s a voluntary system, and if you don’t think the system’s earning its keep, then you don’t have to pay.
Without question, the issues of fairness and respect for individual choice were instrumental in creating the right-to-work watershed. But another factor was the clear economic advantage that states enjoyed once they expanded worker freedom by adopting right-to-work.
In the 35-year period between 1977 and 2012, right-to-work states grew their employment by 105.3 percent—more than double the 50 percent growth experienced by states without right to work.
This trend is repeated in more recent data as well. From 2000 to 2015, states with a right-to-work law increased personal income by 91 percent, compared to just 72 percent in states without one. Naturally, along with the increased income possibilities, the same period saw right-to-work states increase their population by 22.3 percent while states without the law experienced an increase of just 9.5 percent.
Despite the clear economic evidence, right-to-work opponents still trot out their debunked mantra: “right-to-work…for less.” The implication is that workers in right-to-work states have less income.
This dubious claim stems from economic analysis that leaves out important context. While states without a right-to-work law do have slightly higher average income in nominal dollars, they actually have less purchasing power when you account for cost-of-living differences.
Once these cost-of-living differences are accounted for, data show that states with a right-to-work law actually have personal income that is 4.1 percent higher than in states without. Once all relevant factors are considered, there’s no evidence that worker freedom leads to lower income and a mountain of evidence suggesting the opposite.
It was a tipping point for worker freedom in February 2016 when West Virginia became the 26th right-to-work state. That legacy was continued by Kentucky. When it became the 27th right-to-work state, it meant that more Americans now live in a state that protects workers’ rights than live in states without right-to-work.
With the adoption of a right-to-work law in Missouri and ongoing discussions in other states, we have long passed the tipping point. Worker freedom is on the rise.
We are now in the right-to-work watershed.
Ben Wilterdink is director of the Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council.