CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Legislature has signaled that it will take up a right-to-work (RTW) bill in the 2016 session, which begins Jan. 13.
They absolutely should address this issue and for the sake of West Virginia’s economy and workers, pass it as quickly as possible.
RTW legislation is pretty simple. Current West Virginia law allows for what’s called a union shop. Under such an arrangement, a worker at a unionized business must be a member of the union or pay a fee to the union. If they don’t, they can — and indeed must — be fired. An RTW law would allow workers to choose for themselves if they want to turn over part of their paychecks to the union without fear of losing their jobs.
RTW is an obvious benefit to workers, but it is more than just allowing people to keep more of what they earn. According to multiple economic studies, including one released just this year by the respected firm National Economic Research Associates, states that pass RTW see improved economic performance.
Moreover, our county economic development specialists in West Virginia tell us that one of the most important criterion businesses look at when determining whether to open a facility in a particular state is the existence of an RTW law. This means that the status quo in West Virginia is keeping new business opportunities out of our state.
These factors are why half of the 50 states have already passed RTW. Since 2012, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin have passed RTW laws.
As West Virginia searches for new ways to be an attractive place to do business and create jobs, we would be foolish to leave anything on the table. And yet, RTW is strongly opposed by at least one group in our state: organized labor.
It’s not hard to understand why. Unions enjoy compelled dues payments and, if workers are given a choice, those payments may go down. But that’s no excuse for the Legislature to hold back on passing RTW, nor does it justify the inaccurate arguments unions are using to stigmatize the legislation.
For example, unions claim that RTW states have lower wages. That’s simply not true, and here’s why.
Compulsory dues states like New York and California tend to have higher costs of living and higher tax rates than RTW states like Tennessee and South Carolina. If you factor in the cost of living and taxes, RTW status does not result in wage differentials between states. But most importantly, West Virginia, which is historically one of the most unionized states in the nation, is 49th in per capita income.
Unions also argue that RTW states have higher workplace fatality rates. Even if one took the unions’ numbers at face value, the fact that North Dakota has a higher fatality rate than, say, Connecticut has little if anything to do with RTW. Fatality rates instead are likely to reflect the different types of industries in each state (oil and agriculture vs. finance, insurance and real estate for example) and other factors. The unions’ argument fails to recognize that correlation is not the same thing as causation.
Finally, the unions state that seven of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rates are RTW states. First of all that’s not correct — according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), it’s a 5-5 tie. And, according to that same BLS data used by the unions, the 25 states with RTW laws have, on average, lower unemployment rates than the 25 states that don’t. Most pertinent to the discussion, however, is the fact that the state with the highest unemployment rate is not a right-to-work state, it is West Virginia.
The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce is the state’s largest business advocacy organization whose members employ more than half of West Virginia’s workforce. Chamber members have said in a clear voice, “Now is the time to ensure West Virginia is seen as an attractive location for new business. Now is the time for us to pass Right-to-Work.”
West Virginia for a very long time has pursued policies that have failed our working families. Our state’s job creators want to try a different course. Creating jobs must be our priority and right-to-work is needed now.
Roberts is president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.