Is your state stronger today than it was before the pandemic? The answer is closely tied to whether it has a right-to-work law.
Workers have the freedom to create and join unions, but only some states let employees decide not to join the union that may exist at their worksite. These states, which protect the “right to work,” bounced back from the pandemic much faster than states that restrict this freedom.
The contrast could hardly be more stark. Since March 2020, when the pandemic started, 13 of the 15 states that created the most jobs have right-to-work laws. They’ve more than replaced the jobs they lost during the worst of the crisis. Of the top 10 states, only tenth-place Montana lacks a right-to-work law.
Then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Of the 10 states that are struggling the most to replace lost jobs, all but three force workers to pay unions against their will.
Of course, right-to-work isn’t the only policy that helps states rebuild. Most of the best performers also have lower tax rates and impose less red tape on entrepreneurs. These and other pro-liberty policies encourage job creation and wage growth.
But you don’t have to think hard to realize the benefits that come from protecting workers’ freedom. Workers themselves have more flexibility to switch jobs, move within companies, and start businesses, all of which have economic as well as personal benefits. Job creators find it easier to expand and hire more people, and other companies are more likely to move from out-of-state, creating more jobs.
These benefits have been clear for decades. Right-to-work states see more jobs created, faster-growing wages, and higher personal income growth than states that force workers to pay unions they don’t support. The pandemic clarified the need for this policy like never before, as government lockdowns, economic mandates, and supply-chain issues caused countless businesses to cut jobs or even shut down for good. Workers and job creators needed all the help they could get, and right-to-work was a huge source of relief. In fact, it still is, with some of the pandemic’s negative effects still lingering.
Will more states reap the rewards of a right-to-work approach? Not if unions get their way. They’ve successfully pressured the politicians they fund to block such laws. In my home state of Michigan, unions convinced their elected allies to repeal right-to-work earlier this year.
Few things could be worse for Michigan’s recovery. Our right-to-work law helped explain our strong household income growth and large drop in unemployment over the past decade. Michigan has seen a manufacturing renaissance, with factories moving or expanding here at the expense of regional competitors such as Ohio and Illinois, which force workers to join unions.
Those days appear over. We may face a repeat of the disastrous years before right-to-work was enacted in 2012 when more families left Michigan than moved in. Our workforce was shrinking, and manufacturers were fleeing in droves during the decade prior to right-to-work.
Worker freedom helped Michigan move out of our downward slide. Now, we’re set to start falling again.
Our leaders should know better, especially coming out of the pandemic. The past three and a half years have made clear that right-to-work is essential to moving out of the painful recent past and into a brighter future. My home state of Michigan may be ignoring this wisdom, but others don’t have to, and they aren’t. They will keep pulling ahead, with more jobs and better incomes as if the pandemic never happened.
Permission to reprint this blog post in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author (or authors) and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy are properly cited.
Get insightful commentary and the most reliable research on Michigan issues sent straight to your inbox.
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a nonprofit research and educational institute that advances the principles of free markets and limited government. Through our research and education programs, we challenge government overreach and advocate for a free-market approach to public policy that frees people to realize their potential and dreams.
Please consider contributing to our work to advance a freer and more prosperous state.