In states where unions can’t choke economic growth, jobs and incomes are growing. No wonder Wisconsin wants in.
Consider the economic benefits that right-to-work states enjoy. By nearly any metric they come out on top of their competitors. The clearest evidence is the disproportionate job growth in right-to-work states. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2003-13 states with such laws increased their employment rolls by 9.5%—nearly three percentage points more than the national average and more than double the growth in non-right-to-work states.
These weren’t average jobs, either. They were good-paying positions with increasing wages. Personal incomes in those states grew 12% more than in states without right-to-work protections during that same 10-year period, according to a 2014 study by the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Labor unions try to rebut these statistics by pointing to their higher top-line wages and salaries. But these simple analyses fail to mention that those earnings are disproportionately in union strongholds in the Northeast, Chicago and on the West Coast, where the cost of living is more expensive than in the right-to-work South and Midwest. It makes sense that those areas would have higher nominal pay.
Once cost of living is considered, right-to-work states have 4.1% higher per capita personal incomes than non-right-to-work states, according to a 2013 analysis by the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
These better jobs and growing incomes also lead to stronger economic growth. According to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the economies of right-to-work states grew about 10% more than non-right-to-work states between 2003 and 2013. That amounts to billions of dollars in additional economic activity—made possible in no small part by giving employees the simple right to choose whether to join a union.
This disproportionate economic growth is no statistical anomaly. In their book “The Wealth of States,” authors Arthur Laffer, Stephen Moore , Rex Sinquefield and Travis H. Brown found statistically significant economic growth advantages of right-to-work states in every 10-year period dating back to the 1960s.
An even simpler measure of right-to-work’s success is the net migration of citizens to those states with such laws. This “voting with your feet” delivers a simple message: Americans enjoy the benefits that right-to-work provides. According to the American Legislative Exchange Council study, from 2003-13 the population of right-to-work states grew by 3%—nearly quadruple the national average of 0.8%. Non-right-to-work states saw their populations decline by 1.1% over the same period. That is no coincidence. People like more jobs, higher pay and faster economic growth—and they’re willing to move to right-to-work states to find them.
Yet even as convincing as these economic benefits are, they still pale in comparison with the individual freedom that right-to-work laws provide. Employees are allowed to earn a living without being forced to pay union dues and fees. The evidence shows that employees appreciate this right.
Consider Michigan, which in 2013 became the 24th right-to-work state. In the law’s first full year, total union membership fell by 48,000—even as total state employment grew.
Wisconsin’s government employees similarly left unions when given the opportunity in 2011. Nearly 70% of the state’s 70,000-member state employees union have since chosen to leave. The powerful American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association saw their ranks decline by more than 50% and 30%, respectively.
That so many members dropped their union membership at the first chance demonstrates that they were being forced to give some of their money to organizations they did not support. Before right-to-work laws, their only choice would have been to quit their jobs.
Right-to-work also ensures that individuals are not forced to support political candidates or causes they disagree with. While 38% of union household members voted for a Republican candidate in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014, an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics revealed that more than 90% of union political spending backed Democratic candidates. Giving employees the freedom not to contribute financially to unions ensures they won’t be forced to unwittingly support politics and policies they don’t support.
Unions are still free to organize employees in right-to-work states. Legislation like that in Wisconsin still allows for collective bargaining on behalf of employees. The only difference is that unions can’t coerce them into joining.
Wisconsin lawmakers should be lauded for their leadership in seeking to become the nation’s 25th right-to-work state. The benefits are overwhelming: faster job growth, rising incomes, a stronger economy and greater individual freedom. Right-to-work is right for everyone—and not only in Wisconsin.
Messrs. Hilgemann and Fladeboe are, respectively, the CEO and Wisconsin state director of Americans for Prosperity.