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Issue Analysis

    Workplace Freedom and the Talking Point Machine

    Police in Michigan turned aside oganized labor violence on Thursday as opponents of workplace freedom tried in vain to intimidate lawmakers in their workplace. The Michigan Senate passed Right To Work legislation, which goes to the House for a vote on Tuesday.

    Ironically, the agents of forced unionization claim that Right To Work (RTW) laws endanger employee safety.   RTW laws, which defend the right to be secure in a job without being forced to pay union dues, do not affect employee safety. The kinds of work people do in the states that happen to have chosen workplace freedom allow unscrupulous people to offer misleading statistics.

    Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota tweeted a talking point:

    This talking point is accepted dogma on the left, apparently having originated with the Minnesota AFL-CIO.

    It turns out that while states with RTW laws do have a higher rate of workplace deaths, that rate is 33% higher, not 52.9%. The difference is certainly not caused by the passage of a law allowing employees not to be forced into a union to get a job. 

    As James Hohman of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy explains,
    It's true that right-to-work states have a greater incidence of fatal workplace injuries, but the very dangerous occupations are concentrated in just a couple of industries and in occupations like farming, fishing and forestry regardless of whether the state has a right-to-work law.

    "The bottom line," said Paul Kersey of the Illinois Policy Institute, "is that fatalities are more a function of what types of jobs are available than of RTW." 

    Right-to-work laws protect people from being forced to pay for a service they don't want. Unions and other associations should be able to compete in the marketplace just like everyone else. If your product -- or in this case, your club -- is so good, you shouldn't need a law to force people to buy it.

    Data gathered from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, tabulated below, show the number of workplace deaths by state in 2011, the number of employed people in October of that year, and calculate the number of deaths per 100,000 employed people. To get a more exact figure we should use an average of several years.  The more important information, however, is what happens in a state that changes its laws to allow workplace freedom.

    The enactment of a state right-to-work law is not associated with an increase in workplace fatalities, said Kersey, citing the example of Oklahoma. "There were fewer workplace deaths in Oklahoma in the five years after right-to-work took effect than there had been in the five years prior."

    State2011 DeathsPayroll 10/2011Per 100K
    Alabama742,193.53.37
    Arizona653,038.72.14
    Arkansas931,375.06.76
    Florida2279,326.72.43
    Georgia1074,739.12.26
    Idaho37773.34.78
    Iowa931,663.25.59
    Kansas771,505.75.11
    Louisiana1092,062.95.28
    Mississippi631,351.54.66
    Nebraska391,003.73.89
    Nevada381,391.62.73
    North Carolina1484,671.33.17
    North Dakota44386.211.39
    Oklahoma771,777.44.33
    South Carolina812,158.43.75
    South Dakota31444.46.98
    Tennessee1203,149.13.81
    Texas43312,525.63.46
    Utah391,338.62.91
    Virginia1274,325.92.94
    Wyoming29305.79.49
        
    Alaska38369.010.30
    California36018,473.71.95
    Colorado872,744.93.17
    Connecticut361,914.31.88
    Delaware10436.72.29
    Hawaii26657.63.95
    Illinois1776,591.22.69
    Indiana1223,207.53.80
    Kentucky862,074.74.15
    Maine26706.53.68
    Maryland713,079.42.31
    Massachusetts633,447.51.83
    Michigan1394,655.32.99
    Minnesota602,990.52.01
    Missouri1333,040.04.38
    Montana49505.79.69
    New Hampshire9737.51.22
    New Jersey984,553.02.15
    New Mexico51926.85.50
    New York2059,487.82.16
    Ohio1535,811.32.63
    Oregon572,000.82.85
    Pennsylvania1866,394.82.91
    Rhode Island7563.21.24
    Vermont8360.62.22
    Washington583,492.31.66
    West Virginia43805.15.34
    Wisconsin893,064.22.90
        
        
    Free States215161,507.53.497
    Collective States244793,091.92.629
       33.0%
    The list of free states, as well as a summary of arguments about RTW laws, can be found here. Data from Bureau of Labor Statistics Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities (2011).Payroll from October, 2011, because 2011 is the last year for which workplace death data is available.