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The Future of Right to Work

Three months ago, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted against becoming the 29th “Right to Work” state, which would have made it the first “Right to Work” state in New England. Despite support from Gov. Chris Sununu and the state Senate, it was not able to break the necessary threshold to get out of the house.

Though it is unlikely that the issue is going away, this does mean that for the time being “Right to Work” will not be implemented in the state of New Hampshire. Nevertheless, there are still positives to look forward to this year as the states of Kentucky and Missouri did pass “Right to Work” legislation this year, the fifth and sixth respectively within the past five years. At the moment, “Right to Work” is likely a continuing trend that seems to be continuing to get more popular throughout the US.

A “Right to Work” law is a law that states that a person will not be forced to join a union or pay union dues as a requirement of employment. The ability for states to implement such laws was initially authorized as part of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, better known as the Taft-Hartley Act. The law was passed in response to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, or the Wagner Act, which forced businesses to accept standardized union negotiations and has been accused of forcing businesses to unionize.

Most of this has been done through the Wagner Act created National Labor Relations Board which has always overseen, organized, and maintained union elections and labor laws as well as made rules on how businesses can deal with unions (which included attempting to stop Boeing from opening a new plant in South Carolina which was a “Right to Work” state). So “Right to Work” has been championed as an alternative to forced and government mandated unionism.

Over the years, “Right to Work” has seen a surge in popularity. As I have stated previously, over half of the States in the USA are “Right to Work” States. According to Gallup, 71% openly support “Right to Work” laws while 82% agree with the statement that "no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will." However, 53% in the same poll said they had a positive view of unions, compared to only 38% opposing.

Many might find this contradictory, but this is not as surprising as some might think. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has stated that “Right to Work” is neither "anti-union" nor "pro-union," it merely supports the individual decision of one to choose to or not to involve one’s self with a union. So, the Gallup poll suggests that America is pro-union, but also believes that they should not be forced to join a union they do or do not support.

Over the past several years, states with “Right to Work” laws have seen various economic impacts. For example, statistics from the Bureau of Labor found that between 1990 and 2014, employment grew more than twice as fast in “Right to Work” states than non-”Right to Work” states. Meanwhile, five out of the six states with the highest job growth in 2014 were “Right to Work” states. This might not be all that surprising as many companies (some firms report even more than half) will make “Right to Work” a major factor when deciding whether or not they decide to set up production factories in a potential state. So “Right to Work” laws do have a significant impact on employment.

There is, however, a debate on how “Right to Work” impacts wages and benefits. The Economic Policy Institute argues that “[w]ages in ‘Right to Work’ states are 3.1 percent lower than those in non-RTW states.” However, the Heritage Foundation has argued that when cost of living is taken into account, that different disappears. Adjusted for cost of living as opposed to a blanket comparison, the evidence changes. So that argument is still up in the air at best.

At the moment, there is a national version of the law in Congress that was introduced by Reps. Joe Wilson of South Carolina and Steve King of Iowa. The bill would eliminate "security clauses" which permit contracts which require all employees to pay union dues. Historically, it has been repeatedly introduced but has not yet been signed into law. However, many are hopeful that the legislation will get passed since President Trump has voiced his support for the legislation. With Republicans controlling both houses of congress and pressure from the President, this may mean that the legislation could be the law of the land very soon.

With the recent legislation stopped, New Hampshire is not currently the next “Right to Work” state. This seems to be a continuing trend as more and more states to continue to try to pass the legislation. Still, politics is fickle and time and moods can change at the drop of a hat. However, since the number of “Right to Work” states continues to increase, it is likely that this will continue. For now, we will just have to wait and see what happens next.