Gazette editorial: ‘Right to work’ dangerous for WV

“Right to work” sounds so appealing, doesn’t it, with the vague suggestion that if West Virginia could just get some oppressor’s boot out of its back, its people would be free to prosper?

It might be good marketing by out-of-state political interests, but it’s not good policy.

The AFL-CIO is right to point out that states that enacted “right to work” laws have suffered. The most worrisome correlation is workplace deaths, which are 54 percent higher in “right to work” states.

But there are other concerns. Federal Bureau of Labor statistics show that seven of the 10 states with the highest unemployment are “right to work.” Employee earnings are $6,000 a year lower in “right to work” states. Some of the difference can be accounted for in a lower cost of living, but not most of it.

Perhaps desperate states that are already suffering job loss and shrinking earnings are susceptible to the sales pitch for “right to work.”

But it’s not a cure for economic ills. It takes advantage of uninformed people who believe these laws make it illegal to force someone to join a union. It is already illegal to force someone to join a union.

What these laws do is interfere with employers’ and unions’ relations and negotiating. Democratically elected unions collect dues from members to finance their work. Sometimes there are provisions for specific fees for workers who object to paying dues. In “right to work” states, unions are still obligated to represent all workers, even those who choose not to pay their share. This makes the union less viable and less effective.

The promised return of prosperity does not materialize. Oklahoma has lost manufacturing jobs in the 10 years since it passed “right to work.” Indiana is held up as a “right to work” success story, but Indiana’s manufacturing jobs have grown thanks to the federal government’s saving the auto industry under President Obama, says Kenny Perdue, president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO.

What is the problem that “right to work” is supposed to cure? It appears to be having any union workers in the state at all.

But there aren’t even that many union workers left in West Virginia, after union-busting executives such as Don Blankenship and others got done with them in recent decades.

It sounds like a cure that is worse than the disease, a prescription to drive down wages everywhere and make it less likely that injured workers will report problems before they become fatalities. Who needs more of that?

Anyone whose business relies on others having discretionary income to spend should oppose this effort likely to further impoverish West Virginians.

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