FreedomWorks Foundation Content

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.

State 2011 Deaths Payroll 10/2011 Per 100K
Alabama 74 2,193.5 3.37
Arizona 65 3,038.7 2.14
Arkansas 93 1,375.0 6.76
Florida 227 9,326.7 2.43
Georgia 107 4,739.1 2.26
Idaho 37 773.3 4.78
Iowa 93 1,663.2 5.59
Kansas 77 1,505.7 5.11
Louisiana 109 2,062.9 5.28
Mississippi 63 1,351.5 4.66
Nebraska 39 1,003.7 3.89
Nevada 38 1,391.6 2.73
North Carolina 148 4,671.3 3.17
North Dakota 44 386.2 11.39
Oklahoma 77 1,777.4 4.33
South Carolina 81 2,158.4 3.75
South Dakota 31 444.4 6.98
Tennessee 120 3,149.1 3.81
Texas 433 12,525.6 3.46
Utah 39 1,338.6 2.91
Virginia 127 4,325.9 2.94
Wyoming 29 305.7 9.49
       
Alaska 38 369.0 10.30
California 360 18,473.7 1.95
Colorado 87 2,744.9 3.17
Connecticut 36 1,914.3 1.88
Delaware 10 436.7 2.29
Hawaii 26 657.6 3.95
Illinois 177 6,591.2 2.69
Indiana 122 3,207.5 3.80
Kentucky 86 2,074.7 4.15
Maine 26 706.5 3.68
Maryland 71 3,079.4 2.31
Massachusetts 63 3,447.5 1.83
Michigan 139 4,655.3 2.99
Minnesota 60 2,990.5 2.01
Missouri 133 3,040.0 4.38
Montana 49 505.7 9.69
New Hampshire 9 737.5 1.22
New Jersey 98 4,553.0 2.15
New Mexico 51 926.8 5.50
New York 205 9,487.8 2.16
Ohio 153 5,811.3 2.63
Oregon 57 2,000.8 2.85
Pennsylvania 186 6,394.8 2.91
Rhode Island 7 563.2 1.24
Vermont 8 360.6 2.22
Washington 58 3,492.3 1.66
West Virginia 43 805.1 5.34
Wisconsin 89 3,064.2 2.90
       
       
Free States 2151 61,507.5 3.497
Collective States 2447 93,091.9 2.629
      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.

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