To take an informed position in the rapidly heating up debate over whether Wisconsin should become the 25th Right to Work state, you need first to be aware of the fact that, under federal law, a private-sector employee in a unionized business can be and virtually always is forced to accept the union as his or her “exclusive” bargaining agent with the employer on matters concerning pay, benefits, and work rules. Even if you’re not a member of the union, you can’t negotiate individually with the employer, or ask any party other than the union to negotiate for you.
Moreover, as even pro-forced unionism labor-law scholars sometimes acknowledge, workers who prefer not to join a union are often harmed economically by being forced to accept union monopoly bargaining. For example, law professors Sheldon Leader, the author of an anti-Right to Work monograph entitled Freedom of Association, and the late Clyde Summers once bluntly agreed that workers who don’t want a union are “often actually made worse off” than they were before by unionization.
Summers elaborated: “Full-timers may bargain to limit the jobs of part-timers, seniority provisions may disadvantage younger workers, and wage increases of the low-skilled may be at the expense of the highly skilled.”
When opposing Right to Work legislation, Big Labor partisans rarely contest this fact. Instead, they almost always sidestep it. For example, Wisconsin political activist Scot Ross, the author of a virulently pro-compulsion op-ed that has appeared over the past week or so in several Badger State papers (see the link below), dismisses flat out the view that employee freedom of choice is worthy of protection. The individual employee’s freedom not to join a union, Ross implicitly contends, must be sacrificed for the sake of general economic progress.
Fortunately, Wisconsinites do not have to deny employees the freedom not to bankroll an unwanted union in order to raise those same employees’, or anyone else’s (except union officials’), incomes. Ross’s claims to the contrary are all red herrings.
To start with, Ross ignores the undeniable fact that, on average, the cost of living is substantially lower in Right to Work states than it is in forced-unionism states. Once interstate cost of living differences as measured by the nonpartisan Missouri Economic Research and Information Center are taken into account, disposable income per capita in Right to Work states is on average nearly $2000 higher than in forced-unionism states.
Ross also ignores the fact that, over the past 10 years, fatal injuries in the workplace in Right to Work states fell by 23.1%, a significantly greater drop than the 20.5% decline for forced-unionism states. And he ignores the fact that, also from 2003 to 2013, inflation-adjusted compensation of state and local public employees (including teachers) grew by 12.3% in Right to Work states, but just 7.9% in forced-unionism states.
The fact is, if Right to Work laws were really economically detrimental, as Ross claims, he and other anti-Right to Work zealots would be able to establish some sort of correlation between forced-unionism status and job growth, income growth, growth in access to job-based health insurance, etc. But they can’t.
The reality is that there is substantial evidence that Right to Work laws are economically beneficial. But even if there weren’t, such laws would still be good policy, because defending individual freedom, pace Ross, is always worth doing, regardless of the economic impact.