Who’s Right About Right-to-Work?

To date, few issues divide the United States more definably than “Right-to-Work” (RTW). According to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, the Right-to-Work Law “secures the right of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to join or financially support a union.” Currently, twenty-five of the fifty states within the U.S. have adopted such a policy, creating a stark one to one divide.

Those in favor of such a law point to several examples of its success across the country. The Wall-Street Journal recently reported that between 2003 and 2013, states with right-to-work have increased their employment rolls by more than double those states who have not adopted the policy. Many argue that the increased job opportunity stems from major corporations finding these less hostile labor markets more favorable for development and ultimately job creation, and leads them to invest in new endeavors within states that have RTW. The second, and seemingly more important, argument has nothing to do with the economy and everything to do with freedom to choose. Forcing working class citizens to pay for association with an organization they do not want to be a part of seems wrong and inherently un-American and many advocates of right-to-work are quick to point out this fact.

Those against right-to-work cite several studies indicating the harmful effects this law has had on working class Americans, union and non-union members alike. According to the Economic Policy Institute the average full-time worker, whether they are affiliated with a union or not, makes about $1,500 less in a right-to-work state and are less likely to receive health insurance and pensions, than a similar worker is in a non-RTW state. The Center for American Progress adds that due to collective bargaining requirements mandating that unions represent all individuals within an industry, right-to-work allows some to become free riders, getting the benefits that stem from union negotiation without paying for membership. This practice negatively affects those who choose to be part of a union by raising their price of membership to cover the cost of those who are receiving representation for free, creating a situation that violates a principle of fairness that most Americans would think is wrong.

So who is right? Those in favor of the right-to-work law and those against it are both able to provide clear economic arguments that support their stance on the issue. Additionally, both sides are able to point out clear violations of norms that most Americans hold in high esteem, ultimately strengthening their own position on the law. Rendering a right/wrong decision within this debate appears impossible, but through a “federalist” lens, that decision becomes a lot easier. The American Constitution is written in such a way that allows states the right to decide issues that are not mentioned within its parameters, for themselves. Therefore, if right-to-work is something that the residents of Alabama want they can choose to adopt it, while those residing in Illinois can choose not to. The American system of governance is built to allow government to exist in its most efficient and responsive form and that is at the local and state level. Because no two states are the same, allowing each to decide what is in the best interest of their constituents and their economy is the perfect way to handle such a situation and the U.S. would be a stronger, more prosperous nation if more decisions were made in a similar manner.

Image: Right To Work Campaign Badge by Danny Birchall is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0