New study: right-to-work laws do not lower wages

Obama with some of his supporters from a labor union
Obama with some of his supporters from a labor union

I support right-to-work laws because I think people should be able to work without being forced to join a union and pay them union dues.

The study is discussed in the Washington Examiner.


Labor union activists often push back against right-to-work laws with the quip, “Right-to-work for less.” Their claim that right-to-work lowers wages has made many state legislators hesitant to vote for the anti-union laws. But new research from the conservative Heritage Foundation counters the claim that right-to-work decreases wages.

Right-to-work laws prohibit an employer from forcing employees to join a union or pay union dues.

“When living costs are fully taken into account, private-sector workers in RTW states enjoy real wages equivalent to those in non-RTW states,” Heritage Research Fellow James Sherk writes in an issue brief published Tuesday. “Policymakers considering RTW legislation may do so confident that it will have no negative impact on private-sector wages.”

A surface-level analysis may make it seem as if right-to-work leads to lower wages. States with right-to-work laws do have lower wages than non-right-to-work states, but right-to-work states also have lower costs of living. Virginia is the only right-to-work state with a higher cost of living than the national average.

After adjusting for differences in costs of living, private sector wages in right-to-work states and non-right-to-work states are virtually equal, according to Sherk’s analysis.

Here’s the map of right-to-work states:

Right to work states as of March 2015
Right to work states (in red) as of March 2015

I don’t really mind unions if they stay out of politics. My problem is when they get into politics and line themselves up with Democrats on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. If the labor unions get involved in pushing for abortion and gay marriage, then it makes sense to pass these right to work laws. Every time a worker chooses not to join a union, it means that unions get less money to donate to Democrats at election time. Every little bit helps, and the workers can use the money better than any union executive can.

One thought on “New study: right-to-work laws do not lower wages”

  1. The root problem with unions is that they are coercive in nature. You do not get to choose to join the union. If you are hired at a job, you are required to become a union member.

    This sets up a perverse relationship. The union in theory should represents the workers, but because it is an involuntary relationship the reality is the opposite; the members do the union’s bidding.

    If unions benefit the worker, why is membership compulsory? Aren’t there incentives for a member to join? If so, why must it be forced? Why must there be only one union at a company? Why can’t there be different unions that represent different workers with different priorities and demands?

    I have never heard a satisfactory response to these questions.

    The only way a union can fulfill its intended function and remain voluntary is that it represents people with rare, in-demand high-value labor skills. It is impossible for a voluntary union to survive when they represent low-skilled workers who can be found elsewhere.

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