Twenty years ago, the residents of Idaho voted to affirm its status as the 21st right-to-work state. Idaho, which at the time had been experiencing a significant decline in manufacturing employment, has experienced an improving economy ever since. Oklahoma voters followed suit, approving right-to-work legislation in 2001. Currently, 22 states are covered by right-to-work laws. Unfortunately, Michigan has yet to add its name to the list.
Right-to-work laws give employees the freedom to decide whether or not they wish to financially support a union. In Michigan and other states that have not implemented right-to-work laws, employees can be required to pay union fees even if they choose not to become full members of the union.
Not surprisingly, states with right-to-work laws surpass those without them both in job and income growth. According to the National Right to Work Committee, "Right to Work states enjoyed a net 24% increase in non-farm, private-sector jobs between 1993 and 2003," ten percent more than their counterparts without right-to-work laws. During the same time period, employees in right-to-work states experienced a 37 percent growth in real personal income, 11 percent more than those in non-right-to-work states.
Idaho’s economic turnaround since becoming a right-to-work state has been impressive. According to the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, Idaho experienced an 8 percent decline in its manufacturing employment between 1980 and 1985, while nearby right-to-work states witnessed between 16 percent and 36 percent increases in the same area. However, between 1986 — when Idaho voters affirmed right-to-work legislation — and 2001, manufacturing jobs in the state grew by 41 percent, while the national average was a 6 percent decline.
Oklahoma, the newest right-to-work state, is becoming a success story as well. In the 30 years prior to becoming a right-to-work state, Oklahoma’s real per capita personal income grew by 55.2 percent, compared to a 74.2 percent average among right-to-work states. Since adopting the right-to-work constitutional amendment, however, the state’s economy is starting to show improvement. In 2002, Oklahoma experienced a 1.6 percent growth in real aggregate personal income, compared to a 1 percent increase among non-right-to-work states, according to NILRR. In addition, Oklahoma also has seen an increase in the total number of people covered by private health insurance since right-to-work was approved.
In February 2005, right-to-work legislation was introduced at the federal level. The bill would eliminate federal laws that force workers to support a union as a condition of employment. Its stated purpose is to "preserve and protect the free choice of individual employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, or to refrain from such activities."
Earlier this year, similar legislation was proposed in Michigan. If passed, HB 5771 and HB 5772 would ban compulsory union support for government and private sector employees, respectively. This type of legislation could give Michigan the chance to catch up to other right-to-work states where productivity and employment grow significantly faster.
Christina M. Kohn is a senior economics and history major at Hillsdale College and was a summer 2006 intern at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.