Some states can’t celebrate National Employee Freedom Week

Right-to-work creates opportunities and spurs economic growth. According to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, between 2002 to 2011, the economy of the average right-to-work state grew 18.1 percent, compared to just 10.6 percent in states without right-to-work laws.

With that growth comes much-needed jobs. Data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that employment in right-to-work states increased by 4.5 percent during the same period, while the number of jobs dropped 1.2 percent in other states. This has been particularly hard in Illinois, where unemployment stands at a staggering 9.3 percent.

Jobs aren’t the only thing growing in right-to-work states. Disposable incomes grew faster in over the same period. In fact, if you account for cost of living using an index provided by the Council for Community and Economic Research, disposable incomes in 2011 were more than $2,500 higher in states with right-to-work laws than in states with forced unionization.

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But beyond the numbers, right-to-work is a moral necessity: Nobody should be forced to contribute to a private organization that he or she does not believe in. In fact, a poll conducted by Google Consumer Surveys in conjunction with the Nevada Policy Research Institute found 33 percent of union households would leave their unions if they could. In states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, 28 and 27 percent responded that they would leave, while 30.4 percent of Illinois’ union households said the same thing. Right-to-work would facilitate this by letting workers join unions and bargain collectively, without forcing others to do so simply to hold their job.

This is fair to workers and unions. Not all workers benefit from union representation—rigid union job classifications and seniority lists mean that younger workers are at greater risk of being laid off, and workers with special skills are prone to be shortchanged. Right to-work also allows workers to decide for themselves how good a job their union is doing, and forces union officials to listen to all their members’ concerns.

Union officials will argue that it is unfair to allow workers to benefit from union contracts without paying union dues. But they forget the fact that union demands can backfire, and workers can get hurt. In late 2012, Hostess Brands, the maker of Twinkies and other snacks, entered bankruptcy because of badly underfunded union pensions. The company then was forced to shut down by a bakers’ union strike. 1,400 Illinoisans lost their jobs as a result.

For all these reasons, many states, including the states all around Illinois, have passed or are seriously considering right-to-work laws. Indiana and Michigan passed their own versions in 2012; Wisconsin included right-to-work for government employees as part of its labor law reforms in 2011. And in April, the labor committee of the Missouri House of Representatives approved a right-to-work law, taking the first step toward eventual passage.

The rest of the nation should take the same path. Right-to-work lets workers decide whether a union has earned their dues money and makes union officials work for their support. It also draws employers like a magnet, expanding the economy, creating jobs, and improving wages. If states like Illinois want to turn their economic fortunes around, they should pass a right-to-work law immediately. Only then can these states participate in National Employee Freedom Week.
 
Paul Kersey is director of Labor Policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, a free-market think tank based in Chicago.