Ten years ago this December, the state Legislature adopted a right-to-work statute, which said nobody need be compelled to join or financially support a union as a condition of employment. This worker protection law was the fruit of a two-decade campaign by the Mackinac Center.
The Mackinac Center has repeatedly used its intellectual firepower to demonstrate to the public, opinion makers and legislators that right-to-work states frequently do better economically than those with compulsory union laws.
Among the studies we cited over the years was a 1998 academic paper that looked at counties on state borders, where one state enjoyed right-to-work protections and an adjacent state did not. The study looked at manufacturing employment share, or the number of people in the manufacturing workforce as a percentage of the total private sector workforce. It found that manufacturing’s role was 33% higher on the right- to-work side of the border.
Inspired by this original work, I undertook a project with my frequent collaborator, Mackinac Center Adjunct Scholar Todd Nesbit. We attempted to measure any impacts of right-to- work by using a similar method and looking across the nation. In border counties that passed a right- to-work law after 2000, we found manufacturing employment was 21% higher in 2018 than it would have been otherwise.
For the states of Michigan and Indiana, that figure was 26% and 27% higher, respectively. Our findings were clear that employment gains accruing to the right-to-work states of Michigan and Indiana were coming from Ohio, which lacks right-to-work protections.
This is consistent with other research. A working paper by Harvard scholars published in December 2021, using a similar technique, found the manufacturing employment share to be 28% higher in border counties with right- to-work protections.
The media response has been positive. The Wall Street Journal published an exclusive op-ed from the Mackinac Center on April 14, with the title “Welcome to Indiana, a Right-to-Work State.” We also wrote op-eds in May for The Hill and The Detroit News. There’s plenty more material from our study to be gleaned for the coming 10th anniversary celebrations — and more efforts to persuade states without such laws to adopt them.