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A recent report based on Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data confirmed what was anecdotally apparent: that jobs continue to flood out of pro-union states and into states with more free-market policies.
The study by economist Todd Nesbit and public policy analyst Michael LaFaive reported that right-to-work (RTW) states added 1.3 million jobs since the pandemic, while non-RTW states lost 1.1 million jobs. RTW laws state that workers cannot be forced to join unions or pay union dues.
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935, forced employees who work for a unionized company to pay union dues as a condition of employment. However, the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which was first vetoed by President Harry S. Truman and then passed over his objections, allowed states to pass laws against forced union membership.
Currently, 28 states have passed RTW laws. They are now reaping the benefits in terms of higher investment, employment, population growth, and state tax revenues.
“It’s not surprising to see the latest BLS numbers,” Lee Schalk, vice president of policy at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), told The Epoch Times. “It’s also consistent with the migration trends that we’ve tracked. This really came into focus during the pandemic as hundreds of thousands of people left non-right-to-work states like New York and California, and they flooded into right-to-work states like Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and a lot of southern states.”
The study by Nesbit and LaFaive stated that 16 of the 28 RTW states have now fully recovered the jobs lost during the pandemic. Some have even exceeded pre-pandemic levels of employment. Of the non-RTW states, only Colorado and Montana have recovered all the lost jobs.
To halt the decline of union jobs, House Democrats in March 2021 passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would once again force union membership on all workers at unionized companies and nullify state RTW laws. The PRO Act “allows collective-bargaining agreements to require all employees represented by the bargaining unit to contribute fees to the labor organization for the cost of such representation, notwithstanding a state law to the contrary.”
Among other things, the act also allows votes on unionization to be taken by having workers sign cards or petitions rather than by secret ballot. Opponents argue that this practice, called “card check organizing,” could leave workers open to intimidation by union organizers.
While praising the PRO Act, President Joe Biden stated that “nearly 60 million Americans would join a union if they get a chance, but too many employers and states prevent them from doing so through anti-union attacks. They know that without unions, they can run the table on workers—union and non-union alike.” Biden has deemed himself “the most pro-union president in history.”
The act would be a lifeline for organized labor, whose membership has fallen steadily from 35 percent of America’s workforce in the 1950s to 10.5 percent today, with only 6.4 percent of private company workers choosing to be unionized (the remainder being government employees).
The PRO Act has not yet been introduced in the Senate, and appears unlikely to pass at the moment, with little support from Republicans. PRO Act supporters have disparaged RTW laws as “right to work for less,” arguing that workers are underpaid in RTW states compared to union states.
In RTW States, Pay Increases
However, according to a 2018 report by the consulting firm National Economic Research Associates (NERA), “RTW laws do not lead to lower average wages in either unionized or non-unionized industries.” On the contrary, the report stated that personal incomes increased 10 percent more in RTW states from 2001 to 2016, rising by 39 percent compared with 26 percent in non-RTW states.
The NERA report further states that “lower union density is associated with higher levels of employment, increased investment, and R&D spending and increased innovation,” noting that private sector employment in RTW states grew by 27 percent, versus 15 percent in non-RTW states. RTW states lead in productivity as well, generating worker output that is more than 10 percent higher than non-RTW states.
“Right-to-work states can quickly adapt to changing marketplace or economic conditions,” Schalk said. “They can do things like incentivize greater productivity by offering enhanced merit pay or benefits that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to offer under union contracts.”
The push for more union control over American workers also raises civil rights issues, given the close political ties between unions and the Democratic Party. In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that compelling employees to pay to support unions’ political positions was a violation of their free speech rights. The court’s opinion stated that “forcing free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable raises serious First Amendment concerns.”
When given the choice, only 4 percent of private sector workers in RTW states chose to join unions, compared with 9 percent in non-RTW states where they had no choice.
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