The Rest of the Story: Right-to-Work Could Spur Opportunity in the Buckeye State

Protecting workers from compulsory union dues enhances worker freedom and expands jobs opportunities.

In January, Ohio State Representative Brigid Kelly penned a fiery opinion piece in opposition to six proposed state constitutional amendments related to right-to-work. Unfortunately, she hurled numerous accusations regarding motivations behind and results of the policy without so much as explaining the concept, providing any data, or even linking to the proposed legislation.

A precursory look at “right-to-work” is illuminating. This policy guarantees that workers choosing to opt out of union membership cannot be forced to pay union dues or “agency” dues. Under federal law, unions can choose to be the “exclusive bargaining representative” for both members and nonmembers. In such a situation, the employment terms are identical for both members and no members. Under current Ohio law, in those cases where a union chooses to be the exclusive bargaining representative for all employees, a nonmember can be forced to pay the “agency” costs associated with those negotiations. Under right-to-work, non-members will no longer be forced to pay these costs. Compulsory union dues for nonmembers are entirely eliminated under right-to-work.

Lest non-members are unfairly accused of accepting the benefit of a union-negotiated contract without bearing the costs, keep in mind that a union is not required to act as the exclusive representative of all employees. A union can choose to only negotiate on behalf of union members. And just to keep the record straight, unions are certainly not banned by right-to-work. Hardly a “nefarious and deceptive” concept, right-to-work empowers an individual to only pay union dues if choosing to join a union.

Over the past 74 years, 28 states have adopted right-to-work laws, including six in the past decade.  Data compiled by the annual Rich States, Poor States publication tracked the 10-year change on an equally weighted basis of several significant economic variables from 2006-2016 of right-to-work vs. compulsory dues states. Economic results conflict with Kelly’s charge that right-to-work is a “radical change” that would “only take away from working families.” In fact, right-to-work states experienced nearly twice the rate of population growth and a more than 50 percent greater change in nonfarm employment.

Furthermore, data conflict with Kelly’s claims that “time and time again” the right-to-work “experiment leads to lower wages.” Adjusted for geographic cost of living differences, studies show workers in right-to-work states do not earn less than workers in states with compulsory dues. In fact, wages may actually be higher, in real terms, than elsewhere. With Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin all ramping up jobs growth relative to the nation following recent right-to-work enactment, the case for a policy change in Ohio grows stronger.

Right-work-proponents understand that worker freedom also fosters economic growth. The contrast between two sharply differing labor policies in two large swaths of the country is distinct. With West Virginia and Kentucky joining Indiana and Michigan as right-to-work states, Ohio is quickly becoming an island stuck in the past.

Ms. Kelly accuses her opponents of being “driven by greed and power,” intent on “trying to deprive working people” of food, shelter, dignity and security. Protecting workers from compulsory union dues enhances worker freedom and expands jobs opportunities.

In Depth: Business

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