As the country strives to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression, lawmakers in several states are being told that the key to solving their state’s unemployment woes is adopting so-called “right-to-work” statutes.
These misleadingly named right-to-work (RTW) laws do not, as some unfamiliar with the term may assume, entail any guarantee of employment for people ready and willing to go to work. Rather, they make it illegal for a group of unionized workers to negotiate a contract that requires each employee who benefits from the contract terms to pay his or her share of the costs of negotiating and policing the contract. By making it harder for workers’ organizations to sustain themselves financially, RTW laws aim to undermine unions’ bargaining strength.1 When unions are weakened, wages and benefits decline for all workers—including workers who are not in a union— as competitive pressures on nonunion employers to meet union compensation standards are lessened. Because RTW lowers wages and benefits, weakens workplace protections, and decreases the likelihood that employers will be required to negotiate with their employees, it is advanced as a strategy for attracting new businesses to a state.
In New Hampshire, right-to-work proponents suggest that adopting a right-to-work law will increase both job growth and income growth in the state. State Rep. Will Smith (R-New Castle), the author of a proposed right-to-work law (HB 474), argues that the policy “has been shown to bolster job creation and personal income growth.”2
Smith’s assertions appear to be based, in large part, on information supplied by longtime anti-union advocates in the National Right to Work Committee. In testimony in support of HB 474, the committee insisted that there is “overwhelming evidence indicating that right-to-work laws are…economically beneficial.”3 According to Smith, “The data supports our economic argument.”4
Unfortunately, the claims supplied by the Right to Work Committee are utterly without economic foundation. If a college student presented an analysis similar to the committee’s for a graduate thesis, it would be rejected for faulty methodology. In America, anyone is free to advocate a personal ideological agenda, but both legislators and the public at large deserve to know the difference between ideological passion and scientific fact.
In an economy the size of the United States, advocates are always able to selectively choose numbers that seem to illustrate their point of view. But legislators should not rely on anecdotes or cherry-picked numbers when rigorous, statistically scientific analysis is available.
Contrary to what RTW backers have claimed, the scientific analysis of right-to-work laws shows that they lower wages and benefits for both union and nonunion workers alike without exhibiting any positive impact on job growth.