By Scott Manley
Vice President of Government Relations
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce
As a country built on the principles of liberty and individual freedom, it’s common sense that workers should have the right to choose whether to join a labor union and pay dues. But that’s not always the case in Wisconsin.
Right to Work (RTW) laws give employees freedom in the workplace by protecting them from being forced to pay dues to a labor union as a condition of their hiring or continued employment. Twenty-four states guarantee workers this freedom, and Wisconsin should become the twenty-fifth state if we want to remain economically competitive.
Beyond the free choice argument, there are compelling economic reasons why the Wisconsin Legislature should enact RTW.
For example, during the ten-year period from 2004-2013, RTW states grew jobs at an average rate of 5.3% according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s more than twice the rate of job growth in forced union states (2.1%). More specifically, RTW states grew 3.6 million jobs during that timeframe, far exceeding the total of 1.5 million in states without worker freedom.
RTW states have also experienced higher wage growth. U.S. Department of Labor data from 2003-2013 show wages grew by 15.1% in RTW states, while wage growth lagged behind at 8.2% in forced-union states.
Although opponents argue that RTW results in lower wages, data suggests that workers in RTW states have more disposable income.
After adjusting for the differences in cost of living between states, the National Institute for Labor Relations Research reports that 2013 per capita disposable income was $38,915 in RTW states, compared to $36,959 in forced-union states. Their data suggests that dual income families in RTW states average nearly $4,000 more in disposable income than their counterparts in forced-union states.
RTW states often receive preferred status from businesses looking to invest in economic development projects. For example, Area Development Magazine’s 2012 Annual Corporate Survey found about 75% of businesses rated locating in a RTW state as “important” or “very important.” That’s consistent with site selection consultants who say states are eliminated from consideration early in the process in about half the projects because they lack a RTW law.
Enacting a RTW law in Wisconsin could open the door to new job creation projects much as it has in Indiana when they passed their law in 2012. The Hoosier state’s economic development agency has already attracted 107 companies that indicated RTW was a positive factor in their decision to consider Indiana. The result is more than 10,300 projected new jobs, and more than $3.4 billion in private sector investment.
Wisconsin must pass a RTW law to put our state on a level playing field for these types of job creation projects or we will continue to lose out.
Opponents frequently characterize RTW as a policy intended to place unions at an unfair disadvantage. However, the workers being forced to pay union dues against their will have a more compelling fairness argument.
In reality, the argument that RTW is anti-union is not supported by recent labor data. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show RTW states collectively added 57,000 union jobs between 2010 and 2013, while forced-union states actually lost 248,000 union jobs over the same period.
Recent data has shown RTW states creating more jobs, growing wages faster, and having more disposable income. It’s hard to imagine how any of those outcomes are bad for workers.
If Wisconsin is serious about improving our business climate and growing jobs, we need to enact Right to Work, and give employees the freedom to choose in the workplace.
Founded in 1911, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) is the state’s chamber of commerce and leading business association representing 3,800 employers of all sizes and from all sectors of the economy.