Why Are Breadwinners Fleeing West Virginia and Other Forced-Unionism States?

The vehemently anti-Right to Work Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has issued a new briefing paper suggesting that it’s impossible to say  whether or not enactment of a state Right to Work law will foster accelerated economic growth in West Virginia.

And the EPI’s partisan academics appear to assume the entire case for passing Right to Work laws, which prohibit the firing of employees for refusal to join or pay dues to an unwanted union, rests on their economic impact.

This assumption is far from correct.  Among the 70-80% of Americans who support the Right to Work principle, the vast majority regard forcing any employee to support a union financially, or be fired, as just plain wrong, regardless of the economic consequences.

Pro-Right to Work Americans undoubtedly hold that belief in part because they recognize that employees who are subject to monopolistic union workplace contracts, but don’t personally want a union, are “often actually made worse off” than they were before, as pro-Big Labor law professor Sheldon Leader acknowledged in his 1992 book Freedom of Association.

In his review of Leader’s book, fellow labor-law specialist Clyde Summers concurred and elaborated on the point. Under monopolistic unionism, Summers explained:

Full-timers may bargain to limit the jobs of part-timers, seniority provisions may disadvantage younger workers, and wage increases of the low skilled may be at the expense of the high skilled.

The harmed workers aren’t “free riders” — rather they are, to borrow a phrase from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, “compelled riders.” There is no even half-way plausible justification for forcing them to pay union dues as a job condition.

Summers also recognized that denying private organizations the legal power to collect compulsory assessments, even from people who really do benefit from their activities, is a “hallmark of a free society.”

That’s the main reason why West Virginia, where a Right to Work measure was just approved by the state Senate Judiciary Committee, and the other 24 remaining forced-unionism states ought to enact Right to Work laws. They would be fully justified in doing so for moral reasons even if Right to Work laws had no economic impact whatsoever.

But is the evidence of economic benefits really as difficult to discern as the EPI claims?

As a story published in the National Right to Work Newsletter a few months ago (see the link below to read the whole thing), a quick review of trends in age-segregated population growth in recent years as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau suffices to make a prima facie case that Right to Work laws foster the creation and maintenance of family-supporting jobs.

The story focused on Americans who are aged 35-54. Because, as a group, they already have plenty of work experience, but are still able to put in a lot of hours on the job, people in this age bracket are commonly characterized by economists as being in their “peak earning years.”

From 2004 to 2014, the number of 35-54 year-olds nationwide fell by nearly 1.8 million as a consequence of the “baby bust” of the 1970’s. But 10 states still managed to chalk up gains of more than 3% in their peak-earning-year population over this same period. And nine of those states have longstanding Right to Work laws.  (See the chart below for more information.)

Meanwhile, among the 11 states suffering the steepest declines in their 35-54 year old population since 2004 — Alaska, Connecticut, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia — not one had a Right to Work law prior to 2013. With the exception of Michigan, they all remain forced-unionism today.

The obvious and correct explanation for the Census Bureau data is that breadwinners, along with their families, are moving in droves from forced-unionism states to Right to Work states.

Working men and women find that they can provide better for their families in Right to Work states, with their generally higher real incomes and lower living costs.  U.S. Commerce Department data, adjusted for regional differences in cost of living with an index calculated by the nonpartisan Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, show that, in 2014, the eight states with the highest per capita disposable income had Right to Work laws.

Union-boss apologists, including EPI staff members and associates, know full well that compulsory-unionism states like California, New York, and New Jersey are far more expensive than the national average, but routinely understate the disparity when they are debating living standards in Right to Work vs. non-Right to Work states.

And what’s hardest of all for union propagandists to explain away is the fact that, when they have a choice, working-age people clearly prefer to live in Right to Work states.

Image: National Right to Work Newsletter, September 2015 edition

Right to Work States Attract Breadwinners