-By Lee R. Talley. Lee is a retired teacher from Tinley Park and a frequent contributor. Note: You can find more info on Right to Work from a source Lee uses in this article.
“We must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as “right-to-work.” It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights…Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone. Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights.“ – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking on right-to-work laws in 1961
It’s been 54 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke truth to power about those championing “right-to-work” laws, likening it indetured servitude. It’s 2015 and we’re still fighting the battle.
You can bet that Gov. Bruce Rauner will use Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s playbook to slash corporate taxes, shrink the number of people eligible for Medicaid and food stamps, and expand charter schools. But his crowning jewel is his desire to break the unions with “right-to-work” legislation. He sees it as the necessity to his financial plan for Illinois, touting it “as the only way to fiscal solvency.”
Although “right-to-work” sounds beneficial, the term is misleading and a distortion. These laws do not guarantee anyone a job, protect against unfair firing, guarantee equitable wages, or decent working conditions. By undermining unions and the ability of labor and management to bargain freely, these laws weaken the best job security protection workers have — the union contract.
“Right-to-work” is also highly deceptive since it implies that workers are forced to join unions. Not true. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1963 case NLRB v. General Motors, that workers cannot be legally required to join a union as part of a collective bargaining contract.
Under federal laws (Duty of Fair Representation) unions are legally required to represent all workers covered by agreements whether they belong to a union or not.
In 2011 study (updated in 2013) by the Bureau of Labor Education at the University of Maine, it found that over time a “right-to-work” law is likely to undermine wage and benefit gains, and prevent adequate representation for workers. Specifically it found the following:
- Weekly pay in free-bargaining states was on average 13.4% higher than in right-to-work states.
- Average annual pay for workers in all industries was 14.1% higher in free-bargaining states than in right-to-work states.
- Half of all right-to-work states (11 out of 22) have poverty rates over 15 percent; In contrast, only six of the 28 free-bargaining states have poverty rates over 15 percent (average for this group is 12.8 percent).
- Proponents for right-to-work laws often argue that a right-to-work environment will help to attract industry and encourage economic development. However, the evidence supporting this is inconsistent, and other evidence does not support this claim. U.S. Department of Labor figures show that there were 13.1 businesses opened for every 1,000 workers in free-bargaining states as compared with only 10 businesses opened in right-to-work states, on the average.
- The study also found that states with right-to-work laws were actually worse off in terms of their state’s Gross State Product per capita (GSP). It states that the most important predictors of income in a state are not “business climate” factors, but a state’s “stock of knowledge,” such as the educational levels of the state’s residents. They also concluded that “states that became right-to-work states tended to experience slower growth after adopting right-to-work legislation.”
- The data clearly suggests that becoming a right-to-work state is not likely to result in a healthier or stronger economy. On the contrary, it may risk a downward slide into a more depressed economy, with higher poverty rates. If passed, a right-to-work law could encourage “low-road” employers to offer even lower wages and fewer benefits.
The study concluded that although many proponents argue that right-to-work laws are important for business development and state economic well-being, the evidence does not support this claim. In reality, these laws serve no other purpose than to weaken unions. This is explicitly recognized in much economic analysis of right-to-work.
As one scholarly article from the Journal of Law and Economics stated, “We agree with the dominant opinion in the RTW literature that right-to-work laws are passed to make unions more insecure; to slow down or halt the rate at which unions are organizing and to destroy existing unions.”
Ultimately, the phrase “right-to-work” has been found to be so misleading and confusing that the Supreme Court of Idaho refused to permit the term as part of the title on a past initiative measure proposed to voters in that state.