Oklahoma’s Economy Has Flourished Since Its Right to Work Law Was Upheld in 2003



Guest column: Right to Work is no guarantee of economic success


Rather like Hugo Z. Hackenbush, the putative "doctor" played by Groucho Marx in A Day at the Races, Big Labor-allied academics can't identify the cause of robust job and compensation growth in Oklahoma -- but they just know it can't be the state's Right to Work law! Image: marxcouncil.blogspot.com

Ever since formerly Big Labor-dominated Michigan became the 24th state to adopt a Right to Work law last month, union strategists have been plotting among themselves about how best to overturn the statute and punish the elected officials who defied the union hierarchy by enacting it.

But union bosses are realistic enough to know that success is far from certain in either of these endeavors.  The last time a state Right to Work law was repealed was nearly half a century ago, and in reality Indiana’s first ban on forced union dues was judicially gutted long before it was wiped off the books in 1965.  (Indiana approved a new Right to Work law roughly a year ago.)

At a minimum, union officials are desperate to deter additional states from following in Michigan’s footsteps.  Hence the economic propaganda campaign now being waged by Big Labor and its academic allies.  The aim of this campaign is to establish as conventional wisdom that any and all improvement in job and compensation growth the Wolverine State enjoys over the next few years will be unrelated to its Right to Work law.

The op-ed linked above, by Timothy Bartik of the Kalamazoo-based W.E. Upjohn Institute, is a characteristic example.  Bartik speaks dismissively of the economic performance of the two states that last adopted Right to Work laws prior to 2012, Idaho and Oklahoma, without actually citing real, as opposed to theoretical, growth measures.

The fact is, Idaho has flourished economically since its Right to Work law took effect in 1986. And the same is true of Oklahoma since its Right to Work was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2003.  This blog post will focus on Oklahoma.  Idaho will be discussed separately in a future post.

Of course, citizens’ primary aim in adopting Right to Work laws in Oklahoma, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, and 22 other states was to end a gross imbalance in public policy.  In states without Right to Work, the law protects each employee’s right to join and support a union financially, but at the same time authorizes the firing of employees if they refuse to support a union financially.  Right to Work laws make union dues and fee payments purely voluntary.

What about the Sooner economy? For two years after the Right to Work law was first passed in 2001, it was under a legal cloud as Big Labor sought to overturn it in court.  Since union lawyers’ bid fell short, Oklahoma has enjoyed growth far faster than the national average.  For example, according to federal  Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) data, total private-sector employment grew by 10.9% in Oklahoma from 2003 to 2011.  Oklahoma’s job gain was more than two-and-half times the average for forced-unionism states (then 28 in number) and nearly 80% greater than the average for its three non-Right to Work neighbors  — Missouri, Colorado and New Mexico.

Over the same period, inflation-adjusted BEA data show private-sector employer outlays for employee compensation grew by 17.9% in Oklahoma.  Real private-sector compensation expanded at a rate seven times the non-Right to Work state average of 2.5% and quadruple the 4.1% aggregate gain for Oklahoma’s non-Right to to Work neighbors.  Moreover, the direct impact of Oklahoma’s signature oil-and-gas extraction industry actually accounts for less than 16% of its overall real gain in compensation.

No one claims that all of Oklahoma’s economic progress since 2003 is a consequence of its Right to Work law, but forced-unionism apologists owe it to the public to at least acknowledge the Sooner State has benefited from out-sized growth  before they seek to attribute it all  to some other cause or causes.  Otherwise, they risk having even less credibility than Hugo Z. Hackenbush, the veterinarian masquerading as a doctor portrayed by Groucho Marx in A Day at Races.  In  a song that didn’t make the movie’s final cut, but has nevertheless achieved immortality, Hackenbush defensively noted, regarding his patients, “No matter what I treat them for/They die of something else.”