Eric Fruits, Ph.D. Right to work is right for West Virginia

Counterpoint: Ted Boettner: Nothing ‘free market’ about right to work

West Virginia, along with much of the country, still struggles to recover from a recession that began more than seven years ago.

In only the last year has the state’s employment consistently exceeded the pre-recession level. Even so, West Virginia is now the only state to have more than half the adult population out of work.

Because legislatures have the power of the purse, legislators tend to focus on fiscal policies as a solution to employment problems: cutting taxes on employers or spending money on job training programs or spending money on “stimulus” programs aimed at creating short-term jobs.

Instead, legislators should consider regulatory reforms that make it easier for employers to hire workers and easier for job seekers to accept employment. Enacting right-to-work legislation has been demonstrated to boost job growth without a direct impact on the state’s budget.

Proponents of right-to-work argue that individuals should have the choice of whether or not to join a union and that the choice of whether to join a union should not be a condition of employment.

Right-to-work legislation can be a key component of a pro-investment and pro-employment package for West Virginia that encourages firms to locate and expand in the state.

A large body of research has found that, as a group, right-to-work states have enjoyed more rapid employment growth, better job preservation, and faster recoveries from recession than states without right-to-work laws in place.

Since 1990, right-to-work states saw employment grow by 43 percent. Over the same period, non-right-to-work states (also known as forced-unionization states) saw only 18 percent growth. West Virginia’s experience is roughly in-line with other non-right-to-work states, with 23 percent employment growth since 1990.

Opponents of right-to-work legislation argue that union collective bargaining benefits all employees — without compulsory union membership, employees have incentives to “free ride” on the benefits of collective bargaining without contributing to the costs associated with such bargaining. They suggest that the potential job gains from right-to-work are virtually non-existent.

The “free rider” argument is fallacious given federal law does not obligate unions to represent non-members. In fact, the National Labor Relations Act allows unions to sign “members’ only” contracts that apply only to dues-paying members and the Supreme Court upheld the ability of unions to negotiate only on behalf of members.

Enacting right-to-work would give West Virginia an advantage in attracting employers and employment to the state. If West Virginia enacted right-to-work in 1990, boosting employment by just one-half of one percent, the state would have about 95,000 more people working today — and it likely would not have more than half of its adults out of work.

Unlike fiscal policies that must weigh spending against taxes or pit one government program against another, enacting right-to-work legislation will not take a single dime out of state coffers.

Right-to-work legislation is one of the very few pro-growth policies that is virtually costless to enact, making right-to-work right for West Virginia.

Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy and president of Economics International Corp.

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