Misleadingly named right-to-work (RTW) laws do not, as some unfamiliar with the term may assume, entail any guarantee of employment for those ready and willing to work. Rather, they make it illegal for a group of unionized workers to negotiate a contract that requires each employee who enjoys the benefit of the contract to pay his or her share of the costs of negotiating and policing it. By making it harder for workers’ organizations to sustain themselves financially, RTW laws aim to restrict the share of state employees who are able to represent themselves through collective bargaining, and to limit the effectiveness of unions in negotiating higher wages and benefits for their members. Because it lowers wages and benefits, weakens workplace protections, and decreases the likelihood that employers will be required to negotiate with their employees, RTW is advanced as a strategy for attracting new businesses to locate in a state.
Right-to-work laws have been implemented in 22 states, predominantly in the South and Southwest, starting as far back as 1947. But what is their actual track record in spurring employment growth? And what is the likelihood that, in today’s economy, a state deciding to adopt the 23rd right-to-work statute would see its job market improve? ...
As states look to attract and retain employers, and particularly to expand the opportunities for state residents to land middle-class jobs, the hard statistical evidence suggests that so-called “right-to-work” laws have no role to play in this revival. Where states with such laws have done well, all signs – including the data, in-depth analyses of state economies, and the statements of economic devel- opment officials themselves – point to other causes for this success. It is understandable that, in times of trouble, state legislators would look to any possible avenue in hope of finding a way out of the current crisis. But having reviewed the track record of the state with the most recent and best-documented experience, it seems clear that legislators would do better to focus their energy in other, more productive, policy directions.
Right to work laws lower wages for everyone. The average worker in a right to work state makes about $5,333 a year less than workers in other states ($35,500 compared with $30,167). Weekly wages are $72 greater in free-bargaining states than in right to work states ($621 versus $549). Working families in states without right to work laws have higher wages and benefit from healthier tax bases that improve their quality of life.
Federal law already protects workers who don’t want to join a union to get or keep their jobs. Supporters claim right to work laws protect employees from being forced to join unions. Don’t be fooled—federal law already does this, as well as protecting nonmembers from paying for union activities that violate their religious or political beliefs. This individual freedom argument is a sham.
Right to work endangers safety and health standards that protect workers on the job by weakening unions that help to ensure worker safety by fighting for tougher safety rules. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of workplace deaths is 51 percent higher in states with right to work, where unions can’t speak up on behalf of workers.
Right to work laws just aren’t fair to dues-paying members. If a nonunion worker is fired illegally, the union must use its time and money to defend him or her, even if that requires going through a costly legal process. Everyone benefits, so all should share in the process. Nonmembers can even sue the union if they think it has not represented them well enough.Myths And Facts About "Right-To-Work" Laws
[O]ur findings -- that "right-to-work" laws are associated with significantly lower wages and reduced chances of receiving employer-sponsored health insurance and pensions -- are based on the most rigorous statistical analysis currently possible. These findings should discourage right-to-work policy initiatives. The fact is, while RTW legislation misleadingly sounds like a positive change in this weak economy, in reality the opportunity it gives workers is only that to work for lower wages and fewer benefits. For legislators dedicated to making policy on the basis of economic fact rather than ideological passion, our findings indicate that, contrary to the rhetoric of RTW proponents, the data show that workers in "right-to-work" states have lower compensation -- both union and nonunion workers alike.Right-to-Work 101:Why These Laws Hurt Our Economy, Our Society, and Our Democracy
Right-to-work laws infringe on the democratic rights of the electorate by weakening unions. Unions help boost political participation among ordinary citizens and convert this participation into an effective voice for pro-middle-class policies. By weakening unions, they are less able to advocate for pro-worker policies within our government and help get workers out to vote.
Research shows that for every percentage-point increase in union density, voter turnout increased by 0.2 to 0.25 percentage points. This means that if unionization rates were 10 percentage points higher during the 2008 presidential election, 2.6 million to 3.2 million more citizens would have voted.
Unions also help translate workers’ interests to elected officials and ensure that government serves the economic needs of the middle class. They do this by encouraging the public to support certain policies as well as by directly advocating for specific reforms. Unions were critical in securing government policies that support the middle class such as Social Security, the Affordable Care Act, family leave, and minimum-wage laws.
Indeed, this may be a large part of why many conservatives support right-to-work laws. Research demonstrates that supporters’ claims that these laws will create jobs and strengthen local economies are not credible. Instead, supporters may back these laws as a pretext for attacking an already weakened union movement in hopes of crippling it as a political force and as an advocate for all workers.
The bottom line: Right-to-work laws work against the critical needs of our economy, our society, and our democracy.