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News from EPI ‘Right-to-work’ is the wrong choice for Missouri

In August, voters in Missouri will decide whether to adopt a new “right-to-work” (RTW) law. In a new paper, Economic Analyst Janelle Jones and Policy Director Heidi Shierholz argue that the economic evidence and the experience of Missouri’s neighbors makes it clear that RTW is the wrong choice for Missouri.

“The evidence is clear that these laws do not boost employment, they simply kneecap unions and hurt workers’ wages,” said Jones. “Missourians should consider the negative impact these laws have had on wages and job quality in other states—and ignore false claims that they would boost the economy or attract new businesses.”

By allowing workers to receive the benefits of union representation without paying their fair share, RTW laws undercut unions’ ability to organize and effectively bargain with employers. Nationally, only 5.2 percent of private-sector workers in RTW states are union members or are covered by a union contract, compared with 10.2 percent in non-RTW states. Jones and Shierholz estimate that nearly 60,000 fewer Missourians would be covered by a union contract if RTW is implemented in the state.

“Unions don’t just raise wages and strengthen benefits for their members, they set a high standard that all employers seek to meet,” said Shierholz. “So it’s no surprise that workers in RTW states make less than their peers. After accounting for a state’s cost of living and workers’ education and background, workers in RTW states earn 3.1 percent less than their non-RTW peers.”

Compare the wages of Missouri workers with workers in neighboring RTW states, it is clear that RTW will not make Missourians better off. Male workers in neighboring RTW states earn 8.4 percent less, and female workers make 3.5 percent less, than their Missouri counterparts. Compared with Missourians of the same race or ethnicity, the median black worker in neighboring RTW states earns 4.4 percent less and the median Hispanic worker earns 7.4 percent less. The impact is even more pronounced for women of color—the median black woman in neighboring RTW states earns 6.2 percent less than her counterpart in Missouri, and the median Hispanic woman earns 12.7 percent less.

Jones and Shierholz point to nearby Oklahoma, which passed a RTW law in 2001. Prior to the passage, Oklahoma lawmakers were told that there would be an eight- to tenfold increase in the number of new companies coming into the state—especially in manufacturing. But more than 15 years later, none of the promises made by the laws supporters have come to pass. If Missourians were to approve an RTW law for their state, they could expect similar results.

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