|Right to Work: If Unions Benefit Workers, Why Must They Compel Membership?|
By Timothy H. Lee
Thursday, December 13 2012
In my former life as a labor attorney, I occasionally posed a question that union representatives across the table never seemed prepared to answer.
The situation almost always proceeded the same way. Union negotiators would heap invective upon management, usually with a generous serving of vulgarity, followed by a litany of wage and benefit demands as if birthright. Later on, I would ask in a calm manner, “So if you consider those demands proper and reasonable, why is it you never open up a competing business and offer those terms to your workforce?”
You could almost hear the gears in their minds grinding, as the simple question had never occurred to them.
Those memories returned to mind this week when Michigan, which The Wall Street Journal labeled “the crucible of the modern organized-labor movement,” enacted right-to-work legislation. Specifically, violent union opposition to right-to-work laws triggered a simple question: If unions truly make life better for employees, then why do they fear employee choice? Why must unwilling employees be compelled into membership?
It’s sort of like the old Berlin Wall. For decades, and even today, Marxists and Communists professed the superiority of their economic and political system. But if that were true, if that system improved the lives of people living under it, then why would they build walls to prevent people from leaving under threat of execution?
Right-to-work laws merely allow individuals to choose whether to join a union. What could be more straightforward or fair than that?
They do not, as Barack Obama typically misstated during a rally this week, “take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions.” Employees in right-to-work states remain fully empowered under longstanding federal law to unionize. What right-to-work laws simply do is prevent “closed union” workplaces, which compel membership and payment of full union dues as a condition of employment.
But the matter extends beyond fairness. Right-to-work laws also increase prosperity.
According to the latest federal Labor Department figures, unemployment rates in right-to-work states average 6.9%, compared to 7.6% in non-right-to-work states. The National Institute for Labor Relations Research also compared states, and discovered average weekly wages of $675 in right-to-work states versus $660 in non-right-to-work states. Oklahoma, as a very recent example, has seen its average weekly wage for private-sector employees jump from 76% of the national average when it adopted right-to-work legislation in 2001 to 84% in one decade (not to mention its relatively lower cost of living).
Also over the past decade, right-to-work states witnessed 12% wage growth compared to merely 3% growth in non-right-to-work states, and 13 of the top 15 states ranked atop CNBC’s latest “Top States for Business” were right-to-work states. The West Michigan Policy Forum found that 8 of the top 10 states in income growth maintain right-to-work laws, and economist Richard Vedder reported in the Cato Journal two years ago that right-to-work states enjoyed 23% greater per capita income growth compared to their counterparts. He also noted that “without exception,” there was “a statistically significant positive relationship between right-to-work rules and interstate migration.
Moreover, people across the United States are voting with their feet. Between the 2000 and 2010 census years, approximately 5 million people relocated to right-to-work states from non-right-to-work states, and over the past 40 years right-to-work states have grown approximately 100% in population while non-right-to-work states have grown just 33%.
With Michigan specifically, it only had to look to next-door Indiana to smell the proverbial coffee. Earlier this year, the Hoosier state adopted right-to-work legislation and has already added 43,000 jobs. In comparison, much larger Michigan has lost 4,200 in the same period.
Or consider nearby Wisconsin. After Governor Scott Walker signed reform legislation, public employee union membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) plummeted by more than 50% in less than one year, to 28,745 from 62,818. In approximately the same period, the American Federation of Teachers saw 6,000 of its 17,000 members in the state leave when given the choice.
These facts speak for themselves.
Sadly, union leaders and members resorted to violence this week in response to the Michigan vote, much of it committed openly before cameras. Which reinforces the point that individuals reject their agenda when given the choice, so brutality and force become unions’ tactic of choice.
Just like the East Germans, come to think of it.
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