Economic Development

West Virginia Moves towards Becoming the 26th Right-to-Work State

Last week, the West Virginia Senate voted to expand worker freedom and boost the state’s potential for economic growth. This was accomplished by voting to adopt 17-16 a right-to-work bill. If West Virginia enacts the right-to-worklegislation, it would become the 26th state in the nation to do so. Despite cries from opponents claiming such measures are about decimating union power, right-to-work laws simply empower workers to choose whether or not to join a union without jeopardizing their employment. Ending the scheme of compulsory unionization not only empowers workers but 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.

With the economic benefits of adopting right-to-work clear, it is important to reiterate that right-to-work laws are not anti-union laws, but rather empower individual workers to make their own decisions. Right-to-Work does not outlaw unions or ban union memberships. In fact, there are even some union leaders who prefer right-to-work laws. Southern region director for the United Auto Workers, Gary Casteel, noted, “if I go to an organizing drive, I can tell these workers, ‘If you don’t like this arrangement, you don’t have to belong.’ Versus, ‘If we get 50 percent of you, then all of you have to belong, whether you like to or not.’ I don’t even like the way that sounds, because it’s a voluntary system, and if you don’t think the system’s earning its keep, then you don’t have to pay.”

While West Virginia lawmakers consider these facts, the state’s right-to-work bill must next be voted on in the state’s House of Delegates, which is likely to approve the measure. Governor Tomblin is expected to veto the bill, but the legislature would only require a simple majority to override a veto.

In Depth: Economic Development

The United States is among the most developed economies in the world. This has led to a standard of living that is simply unmatched throughout the world or throughout history. Even in such a developed and comparatively wealthy nation, policymakers still must allocate resources appropriately to encourage further economic development…

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