Right to Work For Less

Sneak Attack on Unions All About Politics, Not Economics

As we discussed last week, Republicans in Michigan are ramming through so-called “right to work” legislation (along with several other highly controversial bills) during the final days of lame duck session.

A new report out today from our colleagues at the Center for American Progress underscores why right to work for less isn’t just bad for unions, it’s bad for everyone:

  • The average worker—unionized or not—working in a right-to-work state earns approximately $1,500 less per year than a similar worker in a state without such a law.
  • Workers in right-to-work states are also significantly less likely to receive employer-provided health insurance and pensions. If benefits coverage in non-right-to-work states were lowered to the levels of states with these laws, 2 million fewer workers would receive health insurance and 3.8 million fewer workers would receive pensions nationwide.
  • All of the states with the lowest percentage of workers in unions—Mississippi, Arkansas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, South Dakota, and Oklahoma—are right-to-work states. They all have a relatively weak middle class, as the share of total state income going to the middle 60 percent of the population is below the national average.
  • Over the past several decades, unions in Michigan have weakened and the middle class has been hollowed out—a trend that would significantly worsen if right-to-work became law. As Figure 1 shows, Michigan’s middle class earned 53.6 percent of the state’s income in 1979, a year when over 37 percent of the state’s workers were in unions. Today less than 18 percent of Michigan’s workers are unionized, and the middle class receives only 47 percent of the state’s income.
  • Moreover, right-to-work does not reduce unemployment. Indeed, right-to-work states such as Nevada—which has the nation’s highest unemployment rate—and North Carolina both have higher unemployment rates than Michigan. Not surprisingly, researchers find that right-to-work has “no significant positive impact whatsoever on employment.”

As it happens, President Obama was in Michigan today to celebrate new jobs and investments in a Daimler diesel engine plant. The president came out swinging against this latest right-wing attack on unions and working people. He also explained that middle class consumers are the real engine of economic growth:

Watch it:

President Obama: And by the way, what we shouldn’t do — I just got to say this — what we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions.  (Applause.)  We shouldn’t be doing that.  (Applause.)  These so-called “right to work” laws, they don’t have to do with economics; they have everything to do with politics.  (Applause.) What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money. (Applause.)

You only have to look to Michigan — where workers were instrumental in reviving the auto industry — to see how unions have helped build not just a stronger middle class but a stronger America.  (Applause.)  So folks from our state’s capital, all the way to the nation’s capital, they should be focused on the same thing.  They should be working to make sure companies like this manufacturer is able to make more great products.  That’s what they should be focused on.  (Applause.)  We don’t want a race to the bottom.  We want a race to the top.  (Applause.)

America is not going to compete based on low-skill, low-wage, no workers’ rights.  That’s not our competitive advantage. There’s always going to be some other country that can treat its workers even worse.  Right?

Audience: Right!

The President: What’s going to make us succeed is we got the best workers — well trained, reliable, productive, low turnover, healthy.  That’s what makes us strong.  And it also is what allows our workers then to buy the products that we make because they got enough money in their pockets.  (Applause.)

BOTTOM LINE: Instead of a race to the bottom pushed by right-wing billionaires, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) should focus on building an economy that works for everyone, including workers.


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Advocacy Team