Monday, March 9, 2015

Right To Work: Much Ado, Little Evidence; Conservatives Split Over RTW in Kentucky

After more than half a century, the value or damage to a state's economy of enacting a so-called Right to Work provision is still being debated.  The Congressional Research Service, perhaps the closest one might get to an objective reading, in a study published two years ago, concludes (click here): 

Difficulties associated with rigorously studying the relationships between RTW laws and various outcomes are likely to continue to make it difficult to generate definitive findings about these relationships. As such, the ongoing debate on RTW may be driven by factors other than rigorous empirical evidence. 

In other words, there is a lot more political shenanigating and hot air here than there is fact-based analysis.  For a liberal view, click here:

...right–to-work” laws are associated with significantly lower wages and reduced chances of receiving employer-sponsored health insurance and pensions – are based on the most rigorous statistical analysis currently possible. These findings should discourage right-to-work policy initiatives. The fact is, while RTW legislation misleadingly sounds like a positive change in this weak economy, in reality the opportunity it gives workers is only that to work for lower wages and fewer benefits. For legislators dedicated to making policy on the basis of economic fact rather than ideological passion, our findings indicate that, contrary to the rhetoric of RTW proponents, the data show that workers in “right-to-work” states have lower compensation – both union and nonunion workers alike.

For a conservative view, here is the Heritage Foundation:

Americans overwhelmingly support right-to-work laws. Recent Gallup polling finds Americans support right-to-work laws by a 71 percent to 22 percent margin—better than 3 to 1. Independents support right-to-work laws 77 percent to 17 percent, Republicans support them 74 percent to 18 percent, and Democrats support them 65 percent to 30 percent.  Polling also shows that union members themselves support voluntary dues by an 80 percent to 17 percent margin. Voters also reward politicians who support voluntary dues at the polls. Not a single Michigan legislator who voted for right-to-work laws in 2012 lost in the next general election. Right-to-work laws remain controversial primarily among union officers—not the general public. 

Conservatives are Split in Kentucky over Right to Work

Kentucky, like New Mexico, is debating the merits of a right to work law, but conservative groups in favor of RTW legislation are split over whether to pass a RTW law through the state legislature or whether to pass the laws at the county level.  In a three-month period versions of right to work have passed in five counties, and four more counties are considering them.  The National Right To Work organization favors passing right to work laws exclusively through state legislatures.  They have spent years cultivating legislators on this issue only to find that powerful forces in Kentucky are divided about which approach to take.

In a story by the Washington Examiner (click here) on February 9, National Right to Work President Mark Mix was quoted as saying, "I got lectured for 15 minutes by Senator Rand Paul yesterday on this very issue, saying that we had made so many people mad about our position."

My Take?  RTW, alone, does not predict good or bad economic outcomes.  There are too many other factors:  the willingness of the business class to invest in long-term, coherent, development efforts, the commitment of the state to a solid education system, the presence or absence of a reasonable tax structure, etc.   With these factors present, economic development will take place regardless of the presence or absence of RTW.  Unfortunately, New Mexico doesn't have a lot of positive "other factors" to brag about.  The state should therefore focus on developing a bipartisan, broad-based consensus on a long-term economic development strategy, supporting serious education reform and a fair tax system, and not waste our time arguing over the nonsense of a largely symbolic issue.  If right to work should pass in New Mexico (and I doubt that it will) it will be because the power of labor unions, who have a vested interest in opposing it, has slipped even more, not because it represents a step forward for the state's economic well being.

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