As Michigan voters begin to seriously consider a
right-to-work measure as part of a solution to our stubborn one-state recession, opponents have already begun to spread stories about the law’s meaning and likely effects. Some of these tales may have a grain of truth to them; many will be just plain myths. As the state’s leading source of reliable information on labor policy, the Mackinac Center will be here to sort through the stories, recognize the truths and half-truths, and bust the myths.
MYTH: Right-to-work laws prevent workers from organizing
SOURCE: Center for Policy Alternatives
QUOTE: "Right to work laws inhibit the right to organize"
Right-to-work laws prevent the collection of mandatory
union membership dues, but they do not affect the basic right to organize. Under
the National Labor Relations Act, workers have the right to form and join unions
of their choosing, bargain collectively and go on strike. None of these rights
are affected by a right-to-work law.
MYTH: Right-to-Work Does Not Create Jobs
SOURCE: Ron Gettelfinger Op-ed
QUOTE: "A campaign financed by outside interests that could result in thousands of lost jobs."
If there is one thing that can be said about right-to-work states, it is that they are a magnet for employers and jobs. Between 2001 and 2006 right-to-work states added jobs at more than twice the rate of non-right-to-work states.
Most union commentaries on right-to-work skip lightly over the whole job creation question, hoping that readers will be persuaded by promises of better pay and benefits without realizing that these promises are meaningless if there are no jobs available. The few that do address job creation resort to a number of gimmicks to make the right-to-work job creation advantage disappear.
One trick is to focus on manufacturing jobs, which are declining in nearly every state, to make right-to-work states look worse than they really are. For example, in the Op-Ed quoted above, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger states “since Oklahoma passed its so-called "right to work" law, the state has actually lost 22,000 manufacturing jobs.”
What Gettelfinger neglects to mention is that Michigan lost over 170,000 manufacturing jobs during that same period. If one looks strictly at manufacturing, right-to-work states are at least holding on to manufacturing jobs better. Between 2001 and 2006 non-right-to-work states like Michigan saw manufacturing jobs decline by 13.7 percent, while right-to-work states lost only 7.1 percent of manufacturing jobs.
When one steps back to look at the whole job market, right-to-work states hold a clear advantage. From 2001 to 2006 right-to-work states saw payrolls increase by 6.4 percent, while non-right-to-work states only increased payrolls by 2.9 percent. Michigan managed to lose 4.8 percent of its jobs during that same period.
MYTH: Right-to-work laws automatically lower
SOURCE: Bill Bonds TV ad
QUOTE: "It’ll give companies the right to pay you less
A right-to-work law does not give employers any special
rights; employers will not be able to unilaterally change employment contracts.
Basic terms of employment — especially wages, benefits, hours and duties — will
be unchanged. This is the case whether the contract is bargained collectively or
There is some evidence that wages tend to be lower in
right-to-work states, but this difference disappears when local cost of living
is accounted for. In addition, incomes have been growing faster in right-to-work
states. If recent trends continue, most right-to-work states will have a
higher per-capita disposable income — even without accounting for cost of
living — than Michigan by 2010.
MYTH: Union Workers in Michigan do not have to pay for
SOURCE: Wrong for Michigan, "The Truth About the Right to
QUOTE: "... under Federal law workers can never be forced to
pay dues for union political activities."
In theory, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in
Beck v. Communication Workers of America limits mandatory union dues to a
worker’s pro rata share of the costs of collective bargaining, contract
administration and grievance handling. In practice, getting an accurate
reckoning of what a worker should pay involves running through a legal gauntlet
that can cost thousands of dollars in legal fees. The union controls all the
relevant records and is almost always extremely resistant to making them
available to workers who do not support union politics. In the rare case where
workers have successfully gotten a full reckoning, actual representation costs
have been found to be as little as 10 percent of the union’s budget.
MYTH: Right-to-work laws are unfair because they allow
workers to benefit from union representation without paying union dues
SOURCE: Center for Policy Alternatives
QUOTE: "Right-to-work laws allow workers to enjoy a union’s
services without paying dues. Not only does this discourage workers from joining the union, but it undermines worker solidarity."
Right-to-work opponents rarely tell the whole story.
Under federal law, a union is required to represent all
workers in a bargaining unit, including
union opponents. In a right-to-work state, union opponents are not forced to pay for a union they do not support, giving rise to what right-to-work opponents call the "free rider" problem.
But the reverse also holds: union opponents must either
accept a union’s representation in the workplace or look for work somewhere
else. (Easier said than done in Michigan nowadays!) If a worker is dissatisfied
with the way he has been represented, there’s little he can do about it — even
if he’s paid thousands of dollars in union dues, and even if the union’s poor
representation costs him a job. Forcing a worker to pay dues or fees for a union
he does not support makes union officials less accountable to the men and women
they are supposed to represent. And why should a worker be forced to pay for a
service he did not want and may not benefit from?
The real problem is an inflexible labor law that assumes
all workers have the same interests and goals. The best solution would be to
allow union opponents to opt out of union representation altogether and either
negotiate directly with their employer or bring in their own representatives.
Unfortunately, this is prohibited by federal law, and union officials in
Washington, D.C. have shown little interest in changing this.
To the extent that free-riders are a problem, their numbers
are small. In right-to-work states the vast majority of workers covered by union
contracts opt to join the union and pay union dues — at least three out of four
workers in every right-to-work state. With Michigan’s long tradition of union
support, that will almost certainly prove the case here as well.
MYTH: Right to Work increases poverty
SOURCE: Center for Policy Alternatives
QUOTE: "Right-to-work states have more poverty...Right to Work states have a poverty rate of 13.5 percent, compared with 12.2 percent in [non-right-to-work] states."
While technically correct, the difference in poverty rates is pretty modest, and hides more than it reveals. The reason that this statistic is deceptive is because "poverty rate" figures do not account for local cost of living. When the Census Bureau says that Michigan's poverty rate was 13.3 percent in 2006, that means 13.3 percent of Michigan's population lived in a family with an income below a certain amount, referred to as the "poverty line." That "poverty line" is adjusted for family size, but not local cost of living. This is an important oversight: a seemingly modest income can still give one a reasonably good standard of living if costs for food, housing, and clothes are low, while a person with higher income in a different town can still wind up living in want if local costs are high enough.
As mentioned earlier, right-to-work states tend to have a lower cost of living. This much is essentially conceded by right-to-work opponents like the union-backed Economic Policy Institute. This means that poverty rates calculated by the Census will overstate poverty in states where workers are not forced to pay dues.
Poverty rates may be useful over time, but between states with different costs of living the poverty rates can be deceptive. Otherwise there is little beyond conjecture to link right-to-work with poverty. Where there is stubborn, material want — poverty as most of us would understand it — the most likely culprit is an economy that is failing to create jobs; one like we have in Michigan today without a right-to-work law.
MYTH: Right-to-Work will make Workplaces More Dangerous
QUOTE: "Right to work endangers safety and health standards that protect workers on the job by weakening unions..."
Right-to-Work does not affect safety standards, nor does it take away a union's ability to bargain for better safety practices and equipment. It is true that fatal occupational injury rates are higher in right-to-work states, but this is more a result of different state economies having different jobs available with differing rates of injury. There are a number of situations where a right-to-work state has a lower rate of workplace fatalities than a neighboring non-right-to-work state with a similar economy. Kentucky's fatal occupational injury rate was 79.6 per 1,000,000 workers in 2006 , compared to only 55.0 for neighboring right-to-work Tennessee; Montana's fatal occupational Injury rate of 104.0 per 100,000 workers was more than twice that of the neighboring right-to-work state of Idaho, where the fatal occupational injury rate was only 59.5.
Right-to-work does not mean a state will have dangerous workplaces: the right-to-work states of Arizona, Nevada, and North Carolina have lower rates of fatal occuational injuries than the national average. And allowing forced unionism does not guarantee safe workplaces; of the four states with the highest rate of fatal occupational injuries, only one, Wyoming, has a right-to-work law. The other three most dangerous states, Montana, Alaska, and West Virginia, do not have right-to-work.
Nor is the enactment of a state right-to-work law associated with an increase in workplace fatalities. 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.
Right-to-work does not make the workplace more dangerous, it merely makes union officials more accountable to the men and women they represent.
MYTH: The Right-to-work discussion is being driven by
groups outside of Michigan
SOURCE: Ron Gettelfinger, Op-ed
QUOTE: "At the center of this effort is the National Right
to Work (RTW) Committee, a Virginia-based group..."
The right-to-work idea enjoys support from important
business and political leaders within Michigan, such as Oakland County Executive
L. Brooks Patterson, State Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, Michigan Chamber
of Commerce President James Barrett, radio talk host Frank Beckmann, Detroit
News editorial page editor Nolan Finley and Compuware CEO Peter Karmanos.
It is true that there is a National Right-to-Work
Committee, and its headquarters is in Virginia, a right-to-work state that,
unlike Michigan, has added jobs over the last five years and currently has a
higher per-capita disposable income than Michigan.
If there is a serious campaign for a right-to-work law in
Michigan, one should not be alarmed if it draws considerable attention from
around the country. The fact that someone from outside of Michigan supports an
idea doesn’t make it a bad one, and there’s no reason to expect that opponents
won’t call in volunteers and money from outside of Michigan as well.
MYTH: The campaign against right-to-work is likely to be
SOURCE: Bill Bonds TV Ad
QUOTE: "I’m Bill Bonds, and what I’m about to tell you is
going to affect your life in a bad way ..."
Currently in Michigan, workers can be forced to pay union
dues or "agency
fees" as part of their conditions of employment. Unions may argue that these forced dues are necessary to preserve unions and protect workers, but the bottom line is we have forced dues in Michigan right now and the state’s economy is still abysmal. Michigan’s economic fortunes have been declining even while the
national economy has enjoyed sustained growth. Between 2001 and 2006,
Michigan lost 5 percent of its jobs, easily the worst job losses in the country.
Because Michigan is doing so poorly without a right-to-work
law, opponents have no choice but to argue that a right-to-work measure will
only make matters worse — a real challenge when Michigan has the worst economy
of any state in the union. Right-to-work opponents will argue that wages and
benefits are less generous in right-to-work states. Even if that were true,
union promises of better working conditions ring empty when people can’t find a
What is undeniable is that right-to-work laws are proven
job creators. Between 2001 and 2006, right-to-work states added jobs at more
than twice the rate of non-right-to-work states. A right-to-work law could go a
long way towards fixing Michigan’s broken economy. The bottom line is
right-to-work opponents offer no solutions of their own, only scare tactics that maintain the status quo. That’s a status Michigan simply can’t afford.
Paul Kersey is Director of Labor Policy for 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.
Hunter, Compulsory Union Dues in Michigan, p. 16.
Mishel, Lawrence, The Wage Penalty of Right-to-Work Laws, EPI Datazone, Aug. 21, 2001. While Mishel finds that right-to-work states have lower wages, the gap diminishes when cost of living is fully accounted for – indicating lower cost of living in right-to-work states.