West Virginia Takes Another Step Toward Becoming the 26th Right-to-Work State

Earlier today, the West Virginia House of Delegates voted to expand worker freedom and boost the state’s potential for economic growth. The House voted 54-46 to adopt the Workplace Freedom Act, a right-to-work measure. As mentioned in a previous post on West Virginia’s push for worker freedom, right-to-work laws are not anti-union. Right-to-Work laws simply empower workers to choose whether or not to join a union without jeopardizing their employment and can also boost a state’s economic growth.

Research from the ALEC Rich States, Poor States: ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index found on average, from 2003 to 2013, the states with right-to-work laws grew gross state product and personal income by 58.8 percent and 57.9 percent respectively. By contrast, the average of the forced-union states in the same time period grew gross state product and personal income by just 44.3 percent and 45.8 percent respectively. The trend of states with right-to-work laws outperforming their forced-union counterparts is especially pronounced when measuring non-farm payroll employment growth from 2003 to 2013. The right-to-work states experienced non-farm payroll employment growth of 8.6 percent, more than double the 3.7 percent from the forced-union states.

Occasionally, opponents of right-to-work laws will claim even though employment growth is stronger and overall gross state product growth is stronger in the right-to-work states than in the forced-union states, private sector wages could still decline. Unfortunately, these arguments rely on using data that directly compares the Northeastern and coastal states’ wages to those from other parts of the country. This comparison fails to take into account variations in the cost of living which, once properly accounted for, give a very different picture. A late 2015 study from the Heritage Foundation found once these differing costs of living were adjusted, private sector wages were the same in right-to-work and forced-union states. Furthermore, a 2013 study from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy found per-capita personal incomes in the right-to-work states were actually 4.1 percent higher than those in forced-unionism states.

The measure now returns to the Senate, where a small amendment will be voted on before going to the Governor’s desk. Governor Tomblin is expected to veto the measure, but both chambers of the Legislature are likely to override the Governor’s veto—which requires only a simple majority in each chamber. If West Virginia enacts the right-to-work legislation and expand the freedom of workers to choose whether or not they would like to join a union, it would become the 26th state in the nation to do so.

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