CHARLESTON – By now I’m sure most West Virginians have heard the talking points: “Right-to-work is wrong,” and, “Right-to-work is the right to work for less.” But are these oft repeated phrases accurate?
Democrat and Republican legislators in Charleston decided to investigate and find out what the true economic impact of right-to-work legislation would be on our great state. Last year the legislature asked the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics to do a study on this very issue.
However, after the study was completed and WVU found right-to-work would have a positive economic impact on our state, some opponents of the West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act (our very own right-to-work legislation) tried to discredit West Virginia’s flagship university and claimed the study’s results were flawed because these legislators and lobbying groups did not like the outcome of WVU’s impartial study. I, on the other hand, am very proud of WVU, and as they have recently been recognized among the top research institutions in the country. I have great faith in and trust the research and work they perform.
The November 2015 WVU study, The Economic Impact of Right to Work Policy in West Virginia, found that there was not a great impact on union membership and wages were not impacted by right-to-work implementation in other states. WVU economics researcher Dr. John Deskins reported his findings to MetroNews: “Output has grown a lot faster in Right-to-Work states compared to non-right-to-work states.” He added this concerning union membership, “What we’re estimating is right-to-work lowers membership about one-fifth; from 10 percent average down to about 8.1 percent.”
While he reported there could be a decrease in membership in West Virginia, union membership in Indiana actually saw a growth of 50,000 members in 2014, just two years after the legislature there passed a right-to-work law. In a 2015 article in the Washington Times, Gary Casteel, the Southern region director for the United Auto Workers Union (UAW), was previously quoted saying he prefers right-to-work environments for organizing: “This is something I’ve never understood, that people think right to work hurts unions…To me, it helps them.”
When asked about Michigan’s new right-to-work law, UAW Vice President of UAW Ford department, Jimmy Settles, told Forbes in September 2015, “I represent workers in other states with right-to-work laws. We do very well with our retention rates – high 90s percentage. The law gives us an opportunity to get closer to our membership. It opens up a dialogue on why we should be in the union.”
The next major question WVU tackled: How would right-to-work affect employment growth in West Virginia? A November 2015 article from Matt Maccaro of MetroNews states, “The study found that employment growth in manufacturing, construction, and mining sectors has specifically been stronger in right-to-work states compared to non-right-to-work states. Deskins’ opinion was that West Virginia, if it were to implement right-to-work, would see similar trends to other states that have it in place.”
The study found that right-to-work policy would lead to rates of employment growth of approximately 0.4 percentage points higher than in non-right-to-work states. At first glance, some would think 0.4 percent growth is not much to brag about, but that figure actually equates to thousands more West Virginia jobs over time. In a state that has been ravished by the heavy hand of the Obama EPA choking out our coal industry, we need jobs here in West Virginia. We must do all we can to give our unemployed mountaineers a chance at another good paying job before they are forced to leave the state for better opportunities.
Another major concern was a myth known as the “free-rider” argument. Opponents of right-to-work say the law is unfair because it forces unions to represent non-dues paying members. However, two U.S. Supreme Court cases that have yet to be overturned say otherwise. Consolidated Edison Co. vs. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197 (1938) clarified that labor unions can negotiate contracts that do not require them to represent non-dues paying members. Retail Clerks v. Dry Lion Goods, 369 U.S. 17 (1962) is a subsequent case that affirmed the decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1938. Justice William Brennan delivered the opinion of the Court in this case and cited the Consolidated Edison case when he wrote, “’Members only’ contracts have long been recognized.”
I have heard some claim right-to-work laws are not about freedom but are merely more government intervention in the workplace. I take issue with this claim because I believe the rights of the individual should be protected, and the rights of the individual trump those of the employer and the collective. Your employer should not be able to negotiate away a significant portion of your wages in forced union dues without your approval.
The government already tells us how to spend enough of our money through taxation. The individual should be able to decide for themselves how to spend the rest of their hard earned dollars, and that should include the choice to invest their money in union dues. Invest is the key word here. I do believe union membership is an investment because there is certainly a return for the employee in so spending their money, and union membership is often a wise investment for employees to make. But I reiterate that it should be the choice of the employee, not their employer, to invest their money in union membership.
West Virginia is a beautiful state full of people with big hearts and great work ethic. West Virginians simply want to be able to work to provide for their families and live the American dream without government getting in the way. The new leadership in Charleston is taking a different path than the one we have been on for eight decades because the status quo is just not good enough. West Virginia can be so much more and do so much better. A right-to-work law will give West Virginians more freedom – the freedom to choose. It protects them from being fired because they do not want to be part of a union in order to hold their job, and it protects their ability to spend their wages as they see fit.
The West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act says no to the policies of yesterday, and yes to the promise of a bright future for West Virginia.
Hill, a Republican, represents the 41st district in the West Virginia House of Delegates.