Courier-Journal: Why Right to Work Is wrong

I wasn’t surprised to see Kent Oyler’s commentary extolling the benefits of so-called Right to Work. After all, Mr. Oyler’s salary is paid by business owners, for whom busting unions and lowering wages is a long-sought dream.

For the rest of us, though, Right to Work (better called Right to Freeload) is a nightmare. And let’s get one thing straight right up front:  “Right to Work” has nothing to do with helping workers.  Not at all.

In fact, Right to Work has four very specific aims:

  • Damage and destroy unions  so they can no longer stand up for workers, in order to
  • Lower wages and benefits for all workers, not just union members, which will
  • Increase money in the pockets of the rich and powerful, and also
  • Hurt Democrats in elections, since unions are some of their biggest supporters.

No wonder wealthy Republican business owners are pushing Right to Freeload. Unfortunately for them, the facts aren’t on their side.

Fact #1 — Workers already  have the right to refuse to join a union, and still get the benefits of union representation.  It’s called the Taft-Hartley Act, and it was passed in 1947 — by Republicans. It says that workers can’t be forced to join a union, and that the union must collectively bargain for all workers, whether they are members or not. But Taft-Hartley also said that workers in union shops must pay the costs of their representation, since they benefit from it. (Not the political work; just the collective bargaining work.) The Right-to-Freeload law takes away these “agency fees” and say that unions must represent all workers for free. See why we call it Right to Freeload?

Fact #2 — In actual controlled  studies, states with Right-to-Work laws saw wages go down for all workers, not just union workers.  Note that much of the propaganda about Right to Work uses “correlation as causation,” which any researcher will tell you is invalid. In contrast, a study that looked at 10 years of data and controlled for “age, gender, race, ethnicity, education, marital status, full or part-time status, urban location, and industry and occupation” found that wages went down an average of 3 percent for all workers in the state … and that 50,000 jobs actually left the state.

Fact #3 — Right to Freeload causes numerous other negative effects across a state.  The Illinois Economic Policy Institute did a study examining the impact of local-county Right-to-Freeload laws in 2014. The study showed that if half the counties of Illinois (not counting Cook County) implemented these laws, it would have the following effects:

  • Total labor income would fall by $1.3 billion;
  • The economy would shrink by $1.5 billion;
  • State and local tax revenues would be reduced by $80 million;
  • Labor unions would experience a loss of 200,000 members;
  • Racial income inequality and gender income inequality would both increase; and
  • The number of workplace injuries and fatalities would rise.

If wages go down, tax revenue also goes down. If the wealthy get even more of the pie, inequality goes up. And, if unions aren’t there to stand up for workers and workplace safety, the workplace is going to become more dangerous.

When you look at the facts, it becomes obvious that Right to Work is a classic bait-and-switch gamble: Destroy your unions, lower your wages, and hope that things get better. Workers everywhere — and representatives who actually care about working people — should reject Right to Freeload as the rich man’s flim-flam it so clearly is.

Bruce Maples is the founder of Progress Louisville, which describes itself as “A family of progressive individuals and organizations dedicated to making our community better through the championing and application of progressive ideals.”

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