The Rio Grande Foundation can try to cobble together all the complex statistical formulae in the world, but the reality is their vision of a workforce with no rights and no power almost always leads to lower wages and higher unemployment.
The Rio Grande Foundation’s “study” about the impact of so-called “right-to-work” laws is purely speculative and not based on real economics or real world experience. We can all try to manipulate numbers to prove what is or isn’t likely to happen with legislative changes, but one of the many beautiful things about the United States is that we have 50 real-world laboratories to prove what actually does happen when laws like right-to-work (RTW) are implemented.
The truth is that workers in RTW states make far less than workers in workplace fairness states. As of 2010, RTW state workers make an average of $5,538 a year less than workplace fairness states’ workers. Well, maybe it’s a fluke, right? Or maybe workplace fairness states had an historical advantage that is trending in favor of RTW states?
Nope. In 2001, the workplace fairness states’ workers made $5,333 more than RTW states’ workers. In other words, the gap in wages has actually increased in favor of workplace fairness states in the last decade.
As far as employment, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8 of the 12 highest unemployment states are RTW states. The Rio Grande Foundation can try to cobble together all the complex statistical formulae in the world, but the reality is their vision of a workforce with no rights and no power almost always leads to lower wages and higher unemployment. You have to really twist data around and look for obscure statistical anomalies to try to pretend giving all the power in a workplace to CEOs makes economic sense for workers and their families.
A poorer, sicker population
Workplace safety suffers even more under RTW laws. The rate of workplace deaths is 52.9 percent higher in RTW states. When it comes to health care, only 50.3 percent of employers in RTW states offer health insurance, compared to 56.7 percent in those with union rights. People in RTW states are 23.7 percent more likely to be uninsured, and their kids are 38.7 percent less likely to be insured.
And these aren’t just union workers we’re talking about. Non-unionized workers in workplace fairness states benefit enormously from a labor market that generally tends to pay more and offer benefits. Non-union employers in workplace fairness states end up treating workers better in terms of money, benefits and safety in workplace fairness states because they know they’ll lose good workers to other employers (including unionized employers) if they don’t.
There are all kinds of secondary issues that arise from having a poorer, sicker, less secure population in RTW states. Largely because they have poorer workforces, RTW states spend far less per pupil — $2,671 — than states with basic workplace fairness. It’s probably also not a surprise that poorer, sicker, less-educated RTW states have much higher infant mortality rates (16 percent higher) while suffering from higher poverty rates from adults and kids alike.
Nice if you’re in that 1 or 2 percent
Does RTW offer any advantages? Well, 28.3 percent of jobs in RTW states are classified as “low-wage occupations,” while only 19.5 percent are classified as low-wage in workplace fairness states. It’s easier to create third-world level pay and benefits, which some multi-national employers absolutely love. But it’s a disaster for workers, their kids, and for America’s middle class.
Here are two links to Economic Policy Institute papers dismantling RTW “data” used in Indiana and New Hampshire. While EPI hasn’t yet examined this Rio Grande Foundation paper, even the most basic statistical analysis above shows the folly of claiming RTW laws reduce wages and employment.
As a final note, federal labor law has protected the rights of individuals to not join a union or have money go towards efforts that are in conflict with their political or religious beliefs. The right to work movement has absolutely nothing to do with making the lives of American workers better, or protecting them in any way. To the contrary, all the real-world evidence for decades has shown that right to work is simply a way to transfer money out of the pockets of hard-working Americans and into the bank accounts of multi-millionaire and billionaire owners, which is precisely why a study like this comes from an organization funded by the very richest corporate interests in the country.
RTW is a law that reflects a vision of a society where the very rich continue to get richer and the middle class disappears into poverty and near-poverty. Nice if you’re in that 1 or 2 percent, but terrible for the rest of America.
Bundy is the political and legislative director for AFSCME in New Mexico. The opinions in his column are personal and do not necessarily reflect any official AFSCME position. You can learn more about him by clicking here. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.