Op-Ed: Right-to-Work Laws Worsen Jobs For All

By Anna Baumann
May 11, 2015

Originally published in the Lexington Herald-Leader on May 11, 2015

Kentuckians deserve credible information as they consider right-to-work laws — information that is free from unchecked ideology, misleading messaging and bad math. Here is what the experience of other states shows when appropriate, responsible methods of analysis are used:

■ These laws do not grow jobs — not in manufacturing, not in other sectors.

■ Workers make less, according to one thorough study, $1,500 less per year. And that’s for all workers, not just those in unions.

■ Workers are less likely to have employer-provided benefits.

The methods you use to study right-to-work laws really matter. Solid analysis of the impact of any policy change on economic growth must account for many other factors that contribute to a strong economy, such as workforce education and health, access to natural resources, markets and suppliers, and the condition of the transportation system.

A study from our own Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Kentucky is among those that looked at a variety of factors and found no statistically significant relationship between right-to-work laws and economic growth.

In a recent commentary, Americans for Prosperity Kentucky and ProtectMyCheck.org used casual statistics to claim a positive relationship between right-to-work laws and job and wage growth. But one can find all sorts of things using similar methods.

For instance, in the 2000s, average job growth was nine times higher in states beginning with the letters N-Z, compared to those beginning with A-M. Also, at the end of 2014, five of the 10 states with the lowest unemployment were right-to-work states, and seven of the states with the highest unemployment were right-to-work states.

As that commentary pointed out, a lot of Kentuckians don’t even know what right-to-work laws are, including more than a third of their polling respondents.

Kentuckians have a right to accurate information to fill that knowledge gap, too. It is already illegal to force workers to join a union as a condition of employment.

What these laws actually do is remove the requirement that workers who benefit from union representation, but who choose not to be members, pay reduced “core dues.” Those dues go toward the administrative costs of representation, not toward political causes.

But the freedom from core dues does not go both ways. In right-to-work states, unions are still required to represent people who don’t pay, stretching thin the resources they have to advocate for better wages and benefits. That’s why research shows that such laws lead to worse job conditions, even as they fail to produce the promised job growth.

The late congressman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, famously said everyone has a right to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. So-called studies claiming that right-to- work laws will lead to a job growth bonanza are based on junk science, not real analysis, and should be treated as such.