Hours after West Virginia Gov. Earl Tomblin (D) vetoed a bill to prohibit employers from requiring union membership as a condition of employment, West Virginia lawmakers voted to override the veto on February 12.
The new law, which takes effect on July 1, makes West Virginia the 26th state to pass this kind of economic reform, commonly called “right to work” (RTW). Most Americans live in states with right-to-work laws, and a majority of states now have such laws on the books.
John Deskins, associate professor of economics at West Virginia University, says RTW laws empower workers and do not punish labor unions.
“Right-to-work policies mean that employees at unionized workplaces cannot be required to be a member of the union as a condition of employment,” Deskins said. “In other words, employees can still choose to form or join a union under a RTW policy, but they simply cannot be required to join.”
Deskins says empirical evidence shows right-to-work laws spur job creation.
“Evidence from rigorous econometric analyses shows RTW led to higher rates of long-run employment growth in states during the years 1993 through 2013,” Deskins said.
Increasing Jobs, Investments
Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar for economic policy at the American Enterprise Institute, says evidence indicates businesses are more likely to expand or relocate into states with right-to-work laws.
“For instance, Boeing built a new plant in South Carolina, an RTW state, and many foreign automobile brands also locate in RTW states, like Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee,” Mathur said. “Some research suggests that foreign investment increased in Oklahoma and Idaho, perhaps after these states passed RTW laws.”
Mathur says right to work allows employees to be voluntary members of labor organizations, instead of forcing them to be a part of an organization they don’t want to join.
“RTW laws and statutes remove union membership as a prerequisite for employment, as they make it illegal for labor unions and employers to enter into contracts that require employees to be fee-paying members of a union,” Mathur said. “The Taft-Harley Act of 1947 allowed states to supersede union security provisions of the National Labor Relations Act by enacting RTW laws.”
Dependent on Coercion
Mathur says unions’ power depends on their ability to force people to join. Where union membership is not compulsory, union membership and unions’ political power decline.
“Unions oppose RTW because they can no longer force employees to be part of unions or to pay union dues,” Mathur said. “Union membership has been shown to decline significantly in states that passed RTW laws. The fewer people there are who contribute to or participate in a union, the lower the impact of the union on bargaining activity.”
James Wigderson ([email protected]) writes from Waukesha, Wisconsin.