What the Research Says about “Right to Work” Laws

By Kenny Colston
April 15, 2015

The effort to promote “right to work” laws with local governments in Kentucky is founded on claims about job and economic growth that are unsupported by the research, according to a new report by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

The report looks at the most careful previous studies on RTW that show the law is not associated with an increase in jobs, but with lower wages and benefits for all workers.

“Research comparing the experience of right-to-work and non-right-to-work states is clear that the law isn’t about what’s good for workers,” KCEP policy analyst Anna Baumann said. “These laws don’t create new jobs—whether it’s in manufacturing or other business sectors—and they undermine unions’ ability to fight for workers.”

The KCEP report highlights several studies on RTW, noting the following:

  •  The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found “right to work” laws had no impact on employment growth and manufacturing jobs in Oklahoma after it adopted RTW in 2001.
  •  Wages and benefits are worse in RTW states and Kentucky wages are already low. All workers in RTW states, union and non-union, make about $1,500 less per year than in non-RTW states.
  • A University of Kentucky study says a lack of education and innovation, not business climate and right to work, is what’s holding the state back.

Additionally, the report points out that if RTW were an important factor in decisions about manufacturing business locations and expansions, one would expect to see RTW states returning more quickly to their pre-recession employment levels. But Kentucky is already outpacing neighboring RTW states Tennessee and Virginia by that measure.

So far, 12 counties have approved misguided local RTW laws. As the research shows, such laws are only hurting workers, not giving them more employment opportunities.

“As Kentucky continues to pull out of a recession, it’s important state and local leaders don’t pass policies that hurt workers more,” Baumann said. “Proponents tend to offer right-to-work as a fix for Kentucky’s problems, but it’s the equivalent of hitting a nail with a screwdriver. It just doesn’t work.”

To view the full report click here.

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