By Teresa Welsh |
States should not pass so-called "right-to-work" laws because they are a body blow to the middle class and undermine a state's economy. Unions are essential for building a strong middle class, yet right-to-work laws weaken unions by making them provide services without being paid for them—forcing certain workers to pay the costs of union representation for all workers.
And by harming the middle class, these laws hurt the economy because a strong middle class leads to additional business investment, greater entrepreneurship, more growth-enhancing public policy, and higher levels of trust that facilitate business transactions.
The evidence that 'right-to-work' laws harm the middle class is crystal clear:
The average worker—unionized or not—working in a right-to-work state earns approximately $1,500 less per year than a similar worker in a state without such a law, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute. And that worker is much less likely to receive health and pension benefits. If benefits coverage in non-right-to-work states were lowered to the levels of states with these laws, 2 million fewer workers would receive health insurance and 3.8 million fewer workers would receive pensions nationwide.
The five states with the lowest union membership rates—North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, and Louisiana—are right-to-work states and they all have a relatively weak middle classes, with the share of total state income going to the middle 60 percent of households below the national average, according to Census figures.
Over the past several decades, unions have weakened and the middle class has been hollowed out—a trend that would significantly worsen if more states pass right-to-work laws. As Census data indicate, the middle 60 percent of the nation's households received 53.2 percent of the nation's income in 1968, when unions represented nearly 30 percent of workers. In 2011, the middle class received only 45.7 percent of the nation's income—the lowest share on record—as union rates dropped below 12 percent.
Moreover, right-to-work does not reduce unemployment. Indeed, Nevada—a right-to-work state—has the highest unemployment rate in the country. Not surprisingly researchers find that right-to-work has "no significant positive impact whatsoever on employment."
In short, these laws divide societies into rich and poor. The laws not only weaken workers in unions, but hurt all workers, the middle class, and local economies in general.
About David Madland Director of the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress
James Sherk Senior Policy Analyst at the Heritage Foundation.