Two new fact sheets by EPI Director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy Valerie Wilson and Research Assistant Julia Wolfe explain why the passage of a so-called “right-to-work” (RTW) law in Missouri would disproportionately hurt black workers.
RTW refers to laws that prohibit unions from collecting any fees from nonunion members in bargaining units despite the fact that these nonmembers still receive the benefits of the union contract. These benefits include the right to have the union provide costly legal representation should a worker in the bargaining unit find it necessary to file a grievance against his or her employer. Later this year, Missouri will decide whether to adopt a new RTW law approved by the state’s general assembly last year.
The authors found that black Missourians would be disproportionately harmed by RTW. In Missouri, 13.9 percent of all black workers are unionized, compared with 10.3 percent of all white workers and 9.3 percent of all Hispanic workers. Within the private sector alone, 10.5 percent of black workers, 8 percent of white workers, and 9 percent of Hispanic workers are covered by a union contract.
“Contrary to how the phrase sounds, these laws actually restrict the rights of workers by cutting the financial support going to unions, thus limiting the ability of unions to help workers bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions, “ said Wilson. “Unions have been effective at balancing the power dynamics between workers who may otherwise be marginalized and their employers. This attempt to weaken these institutions through right-to-work is disappointing, but not surprising.”
Wilson and Wolfe find that black workers in Missouri typically make $14.28 an hour, while the typical black worker in Missouri’s neighboring RTW states (Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Tennessee) make an hourly wage of $13.65—4.4 percent less than the typical black Missourian.
Nationally, black workers in RTW states typically make 11.5 percent less than black workers in non-RTW states. For white and Hispanic workers, median wages in RTW states are lower than wages in non-RTW states by 15.1 percent and 8.3 percent, respectively. Compared with Missourians of the same race or ethnicity, median white workers in neighboring RTW states earn 3.7 percent less and median Hispanic workers earn 7.4 percent less.
“Evidence has shown that when right-to-work laws weaken unions’ ability to bargain for higher wages, better benefits, and improved working conditions, it effectively lowers the bar for nonunion employers that once had to compete with employers offering higher standards in order to attract and retain workers,” said Wolfe. “Right-to-work is not only harmful to the working people it immediately impacts, but it ultimately hurts the economy.”