|INDIANA STATE AFL-CIO|
Indy Star Column: Does 'right to work' work?
Counterpoint: Does right to work work?
Spearheaded by House Speaker Brian Bosma, Republicans in control of the Statehouse are again pushing for a so-called right-to-work bill aimed at weakening Indiana labor unions. So what if the same effort paralyzed our state government earlier this year, or that voters in neighboring Ohio just rejected a similar measure by an overwhelming majority? According to Hoosier Republican leaders, statistics show that the average unemployment rate for states with right-to-work laws is modestly lower than elsewhere. The average growth rate is also a bit higher. Why? Right-to-work legislation supposedly spurs investment and job creation.
Bosma and his friends need a refresher course in basic statistics: Their numbers are deceptive.
When you dig a bit deeper into them, things get more complicated. To be sure, among the 10 states with the lowest unemployment rates, seven have passed anti-union right-to-work laws. However, among the 10 with the highest unemployment rates, seven of them -- including Nevada, with the worst unemployment record nationwide -- are also right-to-work states. Those who have independently studied the subject (and whose paychecks come from neither the Chamber of Commerce nor labor unions) point out that a variety of factors are responsible for these differences, with right-to-work legislation typically playing little if any role in the story. If you look at state-level economic growth rates compiled by the federal government going back to 1977, right-to-work states are in fact clumped toward the bottom of the list, while states that do not discriminate against labor unions make up a disproportionate number of those enjoying impressive growth rates.
But doesn't it make sense that companies opening new workplaces will favor states where labor unions are weak? A 2000 study by the Brookings Institute, based partly on interviews with business leaders, discovered that right-to-work laws played no real part in their decisions. Even many surveys of those businesses who rely on cheap labor suggest that they do not make much of right-to-work laws either. Businesses choose new locations for a complicated variety of reasons.
The bottom line: The numbers just don't support the claim that passage of right-to-work legislation will create more Hoosier jobs or economic growth.
Then there's the rest of the world. Things are complicated there too. But it's interesting to note that many countries (for example, Germany) that have weathered the recent economic crunch far better than the U.S. have high rates of unionization and powerful labor unions.
Right to work is not the panacea for our state's economic ills Bosma and others see in it. Instead, the inevitable battle over it will again divide our state and keep our leaders from coming up with useful ideas about how to reduce an unemployment rate that is again creeping ominously upward.
Ohio voters got it right last month when they rejected a similar measure in part because they saw in it little more than a partisan ploy against the Democratic Party's traditional allies in the labor movement. By making an attack on labor unions their top priority, Republican leaders have now doomed Hoosiers to another year of unproductive political gamesmanship.
Scheuerman is a professor of political science at Indiana University in Bloomington.
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