Supporters of so-called “right to work” laws argue that they advocate for a cause whose noble aim is to advance personal liberty and promote economic growth. They wield buzz words like “freedom” and “choice” for their messaging. They opine that too many workers needlessly suffer because corporate America cannot free itself from the shackles of greedy labor unions. A non-critical eye may see a movement that champions freedom and offers hope. However, if you look just beneath the surface of the “right to work” cause, you will see a campaign that is built on distortions and predicated on lies and whose unstated purpose would undermine workers’ safety, economic security and well-being. The true goal of right to work is to put more money into the pockets of corporate shareholders. The consequence of these purposes, whether intended or unintended, is a diminished middle class.
Right to work (RTW) does not provide a financial benefit to workers. It hurts them – financially and physically. A viable labor movement is the best way to advance the wellbeing of the middle class. Here’s what the empirical research shows in terms of worker compensation and workplace safety:
- The average worker in a RTW state earns about $1,500 less per year than a person working in a non-RTW state.
- Unions raise worker pay by roughly 20 percent.
- In Ohio, teachers working in non-union charter schools receive annual salaries that are about $16,000 less than those paid to traditional public school teachers. The gap is even larger when compared to what for-profit charter schools pay their teachers.
- The rate of employer-sponsored health insurance and pensions is lower in RTW states.
- Worker fatalities in the construction industry are 34 percent higher in RTW states.
Economic development is not enhanced by RTW legislation. In fact, the enactment of RTW laws almost certainly hinders growth and prosperity:
- Research finds no relationship between the presence of a RTW law and state unemployment rates, per capita income or job growth.
- When asked what influences their plant-location decision process, RTW is not an important criterion for small manufacturers.
- Low-wage workers result in lower tax revenues, putting infrastructure needs and education and other publicly funded services at risk.
- Lower wages also mean less spending by consumers, which stunts economic expansion.
- States with the lowest percentage of workers in unions have relatively weak middle classes.
In addition to fewer, lower paying, less safe jobs and an erosion of infrastructure and decreased levels of public services, RTW robs our country of its democratic principles. Research shows that a weakened labor movement results in lower voter turnout and less participation by ordinary citizens in the political process. Maybe that is exactly what the RTW folks want; a means of keeping the political cronies of the richest in power so their interests will be forever served. Right to work is a carrot for a select few at the top of the economic food chain and a stick for everyone else.