Nel's New Day

February 5, 2012

‘Right-to-Work’ Law a Loss for States

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:22 PM
Tags: , , ,

Indiana enacted a “right-to-work” law last week, the first state in a decade to do so. Under the Taft-Hartley Act (1947), states are permitted to pass legislation stating that workers are not required to join unions in their place of employment. Business owners want these right-to-work laws because the workers’ rights are weakened: the owners can fail to provide rights that unions may demand. (Think the textile mills a century ago that could hire and fire at will if employees objected to the hours or wages.)

The 23 right-to-work states are all in the Rocky Mountain, Plains, and Southern states with Indiana the first Midwest state unless Iowa fits into that area. There are no right-to-work states on the West Coast or in the East, but Steve Buckstein of the Cascade Policy Institute wants to change that.

In an op-ed piece for The Oregonian (Portland, OR), Buckstein extolled the virtues of a right-to-work law for the state. He joined that conservatives party line that such a law would provide faster employment and income growth with speedier recovery from recession. His crystal ball showed the increase in number of employed people and the additional billions of dollars that they would be making while more people move to Oregon from other states.

In collecting and reporting statistics, Buckstein missed a few:

  • During the past four quarters, seven of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rate are right-to-work states.
  • In right-to-work states, 21 percent more people lack health insurance than in free-bargaining states.
  • Employer-sponsored health insurance is 2.6 percent less in right-to-work states compared with non-right-to-work states.
  • Employer-sponsored pensions are 4.8 percent less in right-to-work states.
  • Infant mortality rate in right-to-work states is as much as 16 per cent or higher than states without these laws.
  • The rate of people dying from workplace-related problems is 51% higher in a right-to-work state than in a non-right-to-work state. Weakened unions lose their ability to fight for tougher safety rules
  • Twelve of the 15 states with the lowest average hourly wage for production workers are right-to-work states.
  • 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).
  • Women and minorities have higher income inequities with white men in right-to-work states than in other states: union women earn $149 more each week than nonunion women; the pay gap between all men and union women is only 5 percent, compared to a national gap of 32 percent; Latino union members earn 45 percent ($180) more each week than nonunion Latinos; Blacks earn 30 percent ($180) more each week than nonunion Blacks; in two occupations with high representation of African Americans—protective services and machine operators—union members earn 56 percent and 39 percent more, respectively, than their nonunion counterparts.
  • The poverty rate in right-to-work states is 12.5 percent compared to 10.2 percent in other states.
  • Seven of the 10 states with the highest percentage of their citizens in poverty are right-to-work states.
  • Eleven of the 15 states with the highest poverty level are right-to-work states, while 11 of the states with the lowest level are not.
  • Eleven of the 15 states with the highest household income are non-right-to-work states, while 11 of the 15 lowest are right to work.
  • Although 10 of 15 states with the lowest unemployment levels are right-to-work states, right-to-work states also have half of the highest 16 unemployment rates.
  • Eight of the 10 states with the highest GDP per capita are non-right-to-work states. Of the 10 states with the largest percentage increase, seven were non-right-to-work states. Conversely, seven of the 10 states with the lowest percentage increase (or with a loss) were right-to-work states.

People who choose not to join unions in right-to-work states benefit from union protection. For example, when a non-union person is illegally fired, the union is required to use its resources, even in a costly legal process, to protect that person. If non-union employees think that the union is not adequately serving them, they can then sue the union. Unless the business owners have frightened all their employees from joining unions with the threat of being fired. Then no one working at that business has any rights.

Buckstein also tried to show that a right-to-work law would return “freedom” to the workers by allowing them to refuse to join a union. According to Buckstein, “basic principles of liberty and justice demand that we defend everyone’s right to work without third-party interference. The right to work is therefore a moral as well as an economic imperative.” Federal law protects workers who don’t want to join a union to get or keep their jobs as well as protecting nonmembers from paying for union activities that violate their religious or political beliefs.

I always find the conservative’s use of the term “freedom” ironic because they are so intent on getting into U.S. citizens’  bedrooms with their desire to control women’s reproductive rights and prevent LGBT rights. I consider the rights of people to make a living wage and live their lives without religious interference to be a “moral as well as an economic imperative.”

If a non-right-to-work state, like Oregon, were to change their laws like Indiana, it would have lower paid workers who would require more government assistance, pay more workers’ comp for worker injuries, have fewer low-income people with health insurance again requiring more government assistance, receive less taxes because of lower salaries, have a higher unemployment rate, and lose part of its GDP. Mr. Buckstein, I think that passing a right-to-work law in Oregon is a losing proposition for the state and its people.


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