Tuesday in South Bend, Indiana, Governor Mitch Daniels (R) faced a question that’s been bubbling to the surface in the Hoosier State: Is making Indiana a “right to work” state a priority for his last year in office?
It’s an issue that came to the fore in New Hampshire this year, too, where the state legislature passed a right-to-work law, only to see it vetoed by the governor. An override vote may succeed, and the measure could come up before the end of this year’s legislative session. And in Ohio, a Tea Party group is pushing for right-to-work through a constitutional amendment process.
In a state that adopts a right-to-work law, workers are protected from being fired for not paying union dues. Heritage’s James Sherk explains in a new paper that without those laws, workers under union contract must pay 1 percent to 2 percent of their wages in dues whether or not they support the union. Unions oppose these laws because they reduce union membership and income.
There’s a good reason that states are looking to make the right-to-work switch. Sherk says that doing so can reduce the financial benefit from organizing workplaces where unions have limited support, make unions less aggressive, encourage business investment, and ultimately attract new jobs and reduce unemployment. In fact, Sherk writes, right-to-work states have lower unemployment rates (9.2 percent) than states without right-to-work laws (9.9 percent).
Though Daniels hasn’t said whether he supports the legislation, WSBT.com reports that, according to the governor, Indiana misses out on one-third of the opportunities for more new business because it doesn’t have a right-to-work law in place:
Here’s what we do know: it costs us jobs, it does.… The businesses only want a state where this protection is provided to workers. I have to say, especially in this tough economy, the state needs every edge it can get.
Those laws, though, face strong union opposition. Sherk explains:
The union movement strongly opposes right-to-work laws. It has self-interested motives in doing so: Union membership fell 15 percent after Idaho and Oklahoma passed right-to-work laws.
Most of the union-represented workers who choose not to pay dues when given the option are those who do not benefit from union contracts. Disproportionate numbers of highly educated workers, for example, choose not to pay dues—the very workers held back by union seniority systems. Without the threat of losing their jobs, the union movement will not persuade these workers to pay dues.
“Right-to-work laws also make good economic sense,” Sherk concludes. And he says that lawmakers considering right-to-work proposals “should ignore the union movement’s self-interested opposition.”