Wisconsin is Ready for Right-to-Work

January 13, 2015

by Matt Crumb
MacIver Institute Research Associate

“Right-to-work” has garnered much attention in Wisconsin over the past month, and the debate is getting even hotter after the legislative session started last week. We must build on that momentum and have a real conversation about finally making Wisconsin a right-to-work state.

Right-to-work gives an employee the freedom to choose whether he or she wants to associate with a union and pay dues to support that union. Nearly half the states operate under right-to-work policies, with Midwest neighbors Indiana and Michigan becoming the most recent states to make the switch in 2012.

The freedom to associate with and monetarily support an organization of your own choosing is a common sense policy for all workers. The right of association is a bedrock American principle that goes back to the very founding of our country. One of the main reasons our Pilgrim forefathers left England was they could not stand the idea of being forced to be a member of the Church of England.

Many believe right-to-work seems like a bad deal for unions because it will cause them to bleed members. Recent research, however, shows just the opposite.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan reported that union membership actually increased in right-to-work states during 2011 and 2012, while union membership dropped by 390,000 in forced-union states over the same two years.

Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of the powerful United Auto Workers also said that he doesn’t understand why “people think right-to-work hurts unions.”

“To me, it helps,” said Casteel. “You don’t have to belong if you don’t want to. So if I go to an organizing drive, I can tell these workers, ‘If you don’t like this arrangement, you don’t have to belong.'”

Some maintain, however, that right-to-work actually hurts the workers that it is supposed to help. They will point to certain studies that show lower wages and slow economic growth in right-to-work states.

However, wages and job growth are quite strong in many right-to-work states. In fact, the most recent data from the gold standard Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages (QCEW) shows that ten out of the top fifteen states for twelve-month private sector wage growth are right-to-work states. And ten out of the top fifteen states with the highest twelve-month private sector job growth are also right-to-work states.

Indiana and Michigan – which recently passed right-to-work legislation – have fared well in the years after they made the switch. Both states have similar economies to Wisconsin’s, relying on manufacturing as a backbone.

In the two years after Indiana became a right-to-work state, over 70,000 jobs were created and average weekly wages grew by $23. In Michigan, over 74,500 jobs were created and average weekly wages grew by $32 in just the first year under right-to-work policies. Indiana and Michigan continue to be among the top Midwest states in job growth, placing second and third in the region respectively, only behind oil-happy North Dakota, according to the latest 12-month QCEW numbers.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, has struggled with private sector job growth since the recession, landing among the bottom feeders in the Midwest for the last few years.

The fact of the matter is that most Americans are coming around to the wisdom of right-to-work. A 2014 Gallup poll suggested this when it found that 71 percent of Americans favored right-to-work policies. Forced unionization is simply unfair to those workers who don’t believe a union is worth the time and money. We also can’t forget that right-to-work does not discourage unionism. If a union is worth its salt, it will get support.

It’s time to do the right thing for Wisconsin by giving workers a choice.