Many Right to Work (RTW) supporters view union requirements as antitheses to freedom of choice. The fact is that many of them don’t know what the Right to Work law passed in some states actually means. It means you don’t have to pay for union representation in collective bargaining even if the majority of people you work with have elected to be represented by the union.
Right to Work Law Supporters Criticize the Tactics & Efforts of Labor Unions
Unions have been the center of criticism by Right to Work proponents who claim unions use forcible tactics and false advertising to trap union workers into unions. What they don’t often tell you is that the union still accounts for you even if you do not elect to participate. Labor unions fight for your salary, paid holidays and good health coverage. In addition, the union has to pursue your claims if they’re under a union-negotiated contract. Basically, you get all the benefits of a union without paying for them while a union worker takes on your financial load.
Union Benefits are Crippled by Right to Work Rules
This boils down to what is called the “free rider problem”: when people take advantage of being able to use a service without paying for it. It’s like leaving your trash on the floor at the movies — you get to watch the movie no matter how big of a mess you make and someone else has to clean it up. This may be more convenient for you, but it’s not so pleasant for the worker who has to take care of it. The ability for unions to accomplish what they were set out to do and uplift all workers is compromised by Right to Work rules.
Union dues are similar: you may be exempt, but other union workers are required to pay your share. This is why Right to Work will destroy labor unions over time. We may not like paying our property taxes, but that doesn’t mean we should stop paying them altogether. We can all agree that the benefits outweigh the monetary obligations. In return, we get a home of our choice and a place to raise our families. We don’t have to take on a crippling mortgage if we can’t afford it. The same can be said about labor unions. You never have to join to begin with, but it’s clear that joining one has more advantages than disadvantages.
States With Right to Work Rules Have Low Percentages of Union Representation
Right to Work began as early as 1944; however, it’s gained more national attention since the market crash of 2008 and the subsequent economic recovery. Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Kentucky and most recently Missouri in February 2017 have signed on to Right to Work within the last five years. There are a total of 29 Right to Work states (more than half the nation). It’s no surprise that eight of these states that enacted Right to Work rules have the lowest percentage of union representation in the U.S.
Yet, when it comes to hourly wages, the argument is turned pro-union. Median hourly wages in the three states with the lowest percentage of union memberships are North Carolina ($16.31), South Carolina ($15.45), and Georgia ($16.51), non coincidentally Right to Work states. The top three states with the highest percentage of labor union membership are Hawaii, New York and Alaska, with median hourly wages of $19.24, $20.56 and $27.68 respectively. These are all collective-bargaining (CB) states. This also varies depending on the industry. Right to Work laws reduced construction/extraction wages by 5.9 percent throughout fellow Midwest states: Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Right to Work Rules Correlated with Decreases in Hourly Wages
Of course, Right to Work rules are great for big business and lobbyists, but these strategies will not create the most optimal long-term results. Right to Work laws drive down the average hourly wage and diminish union worker collective bargaining power for higher wages due to lower overall representation. How motivated would you be to go to the job site if you knew your wage was decreasing for the same level of work?
In Illinois alone, nearly 900,000 union workers employed by thousands of union employers shape the middle class. These union workers represent hardworking families that depend on union benefits to put food on the table. If Illinois adopted Right to Work laws, it would handicap the state. We would lose nearly $1.5 billion in state income tax revenues. Fewer workers would have health insurance and retirement funds, and the state would plummet into a decade-long wage freeze. This would further strain the public budget, requiring hundreds of millions more in government assistance that we already cannot afford.
The outcome of Right to Work legislation has been mixed at best. Why would you settle for mediocre when you could get clear benefits and better representation with a union?