Union-busting laws hurt all workers

Recently, an assertion has been made that efforts to enact union-busting laws around the country actually does not reduce unionization and wages. As a professional policy analyst, I decided to look into these dubious claims.

It turns out that the reason why certain special interests and politicians are pushing laws and court cases to weaken unions is because they actually DO weaken unions.

The reason is simple. Weaker unions result in lower pay, fewer benefits and lower safety and training standards for workers. If workers get less, giant corporations and their executives get more. It's the "Robin Hood" strategy in reverse.

Enter so-called "right-to-work" laws, which allow special interests to achieve these low-road outcomes by reducing the available resources that labor unions have to fight on behalf of all employees in a workplace, including non-members.

"Right-to-work" laws are designed to undermine private agreements between employers and unions that require workers who benefit from union contracts to share in the cost of collective bargaining. These agreements do not require union membership. They simply require non-members represented by the union to pay their "fair share" of costs for negotiating and enforcing their employment contract.

By eliminating this requirement, so-called "right-to-work" laws encourage workers represented by unions to stop paying fees, while still entitling them to receive services from the union.

Essentially, "right-to-work" creates the problem of "free riders." Encouraging free riders reduces the resources that individual unions have available to represent workers. And the research shows that this produces two important results.

First, it reduces unionization.

Last year, the number of union members in the 26 states with so-called "right-to-work" laws dropped by 7 percent, or nearly 300,000 workers. Conversely, the number of union members in America's 24 collective-bargaining states grew by almost 60,000 new members.

Looking just at the Midwest, we see similar dynamics. According to a study released by the University of Illinois' Project for Middle Class Renewal in April, "right-to-work" has reduced the overall unionization rate in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan by 2.1 percentage points compared to the collective-bargaining states of Illinois, Minnesota and Ohio.

Second, it leads to lower wages for all workers - union and non-union alike.

According to a 2015 study by the Economic Policy Institute, wages in so-called "right-to-work" states were 3.1 percent (or about $1,558 per year) lower than collective bargaining states, after controlling for demographic, socio-economic, and state macroeconomic factors.

In the comparison of six Midwest states, the trends once again hold. After controlling for a variety of demographic and socio-economic factors, the study concluded that wages were 2.6 percent lower on average - with even bigger drops in middle-class occupations such as construction and services (including police and fire services).

In other words, just as a rising tide lifts all boats, a falling tide leaves them stranded on the beach.

Earlier this year, Missouri and Kentucky enacted laws that will do just that - becoming America's 27th and 28th so-called "right-to-work" states.

Ironically, such measures - which are often paired with attacks on state prevailing wage laws - fly in the face of not only economic research, but also the will of the voting public.

President Trump famously staked his candidacy on a promise to "lift wages" for American workers, winning the support of many union members. Yet many of the president's political allies in state capitols, as well as his own vice president - have championed so-called "right-to-work" laws that have proven to do just the opposite.

To support them, corporations and wealthy special interests with the most to gain from these laws are continuing to use flawed studies reliant on cherry-picked data and substandard analyses to support the position that weaker unions and lower wages are a good thing. Most credible economic research demonstrates conclusively that they are not.

And American workers are catching on to this charade.

Frank Manzo IV, MPP, is the policy director for the Illinois Economic Policy Institute in La Grange.

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