I recently came across a January 2013 article posted by PolitiFact. It opens:
“State Sen. Nicholas D. Kettle wants Rhode Island to become the first ‘right-to-work’ state in the Northeast–a place where workers in union jobs could choose to opt out of union membership and paying dues.
“The freshman Republican from Coventry has introduced one piece of legislation that would make union membership optional for teachers and another that would put a non-binding referendum on November’s ballot asking voters to support a right-to-work law for all people in Rhode Island.”
Then the article quotes Kettle on the supposed benefits of such legislation:
“’If you look at states that are right to work, they constantly do not have budget deficits and they have very good business climates. So Rhode Island just needs to a pass a right-to-work law and that would help out this state tremendously, along with other legislation that needs to occur to help out the business community.’”
After chronicling its investigation of Kettle’s claims, PolitiFact concludes:
“Kettle said not only that right-to-work states do not run deficits, but that they ‘constantly’ do not.
“But the source he used for this claim clearly shows that since 2009 many right-to-work states have had budget deficits. For 2013, a much smaller share of right-to-work states are facing deficits than union states, but in past years the ratios have been very close.
“Clearly, then, this part of the claim is not accurate.
“For the second part of the claim–that business climates are better in right-to-work states–the research is not as clear. We found one study that found a greater historical increase in manufacturing jobs in select counties in right-to-work states than in neighboring counties in union states.
“But the author of that study was emphatic in saying that he could not prove that the increase was due to right-to-work laws. And the author of the Wall Street commentary Kettle cites also says pro-business policies matter for growth, not right-to-work laws specifically.
“The same can be said of the multiple business climate indexes we found. They did generaly rank right-to-work states higher than union states, but they considered many other factors, including tax policy, that could account for the better rankings. We could not find any studies to prove Kettle’s claim–that right-to-work laws lead directly to better business climates.”
As was seen during the last presidential election cycle, PolitiFact and other fact-checking organizations often strain so much to achieve what Fox News calls in its catchphrase being “fair and balanced” that they look at statements very narrowly and seem to miss many of the related complexities.
The “pro-business climate” in many right-to-work states does, indeed, include many tax policies and other policies advantageous to business beyond right-to-work legislation.
But if policies are advantageous to one group, then logically they are usually disadvantageous to other groups because advantages seldom accrue to everyone or, even under the best of circumstances, to everyone equivalently.
The pro-business climate and the lack of budget deficits often asserted by right-to-work proponents come at a cost to the working people and working families that they purport to benefit. Low-tax states provide minimal levels of social services to the most economically vulnerable residents of those states.
Those low levels of social services exacerbate poverty rates, low educational attainment, crime rates, etc.—not just among the unemployed but, in economic downturns such as the Great Recession from which we are only now emerging, among the increasing numbers of the working poor.
In short, they exacerbate all of the factors that contribute to income inequality
So, the citing of per capita income growth in a state is meaningful only if it takes into account the dramatically widening income inequality in those states—in all states. It doesn’t help the average worker if the wealthiest 1%-20% of a state’s population are enjoying unprecedented income growth.
Furthermore, unionization in the private sector is now largely limited to the trades and certain types of manufacturing. So, because workers in many economic sectors have very low levels of unionization, it is very unlikely that many employers cited by the proponents of right-to-work legislation as relocating to any given state because of right-to-work legislation are doing so primarily for that reason. But, given the way in which the Chambers of Commerce have been pushing for right-to-work legislation, there are considerable political reasons for those employers to cite right-to-work legislation as a significant factor in their decision-making.
Lastly, percentage increases in manufacturing employment are very misleading because the manufacturing base in many right-to-work states, especially those with small populations, has historically been much smaller than in pro-union states. In fact, as one of the upcoming posts in my “Right to Work, by the Numbers” series will show, during the Great Recession, job losses in manufacturing were as high in those right-to-work states with substantial manufacturing bases as in those pro-union states with substantial manufacturing bases.
My previous posts to this blog on right-to-work legislation include:
Right to Work Isn’t Going Away—at Least for the Moment: https://academeblog.org/2012/09/07/right-to-work-isnt-going-away-at-least-for-the-moment/.
Right to Work Is an Insult to Intelligence: https://academeblog.org/2012/12/11/right-to-work-is-an-insult-to-intelligence/.
Right to Work Is an Insult to Intelligence: An Addendum: https://academeblog.org/2012/12/12/right-to-work-is-an-insult-to-intelligence-addendum/.
Right to Work Bills Introduced in Ohio House: https://academeblog.org/2013/05/01/right-to-work-bills-introduced-in-ohio-house/.
Right to Work by the Numbers, Part 1: Population and Population Shifts: https://academeblog.org/2013/04/03/2666/.
Right to Work by the Numbers, Part 2: Immigration: https://academeblog.org/2013/04/21/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-part-2/.
Right to Work by the Numbers, Part 3: Unemployment Rates by State: https://academeblog.org/2013/04/30/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-part-3/.
Right to Work by the Numbers, Part 4: Unemployment Rates, Historic Highs and Lows by State: https://academeblog.org/2013/05/05/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-part-4/.
Right to Work, by the Numbers: Part 5: Manufacturing Employment, by State: https://academeblog.org/2013/05/10/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-part-5/.