Misconceptions Abound on “Right to Work”

In the wake of the 2014 elections, New Mexico has a unique opportunity to enacted long-overdue economic reforms. The goal of those reforms must be to wean our struggling economy off of an increasingly-unreliable Washington by developing a strong private sector.

At the top of the agenda is a “right to work” law which, far from being “anti-union” would simply prohibit so-called “closed shop” agreements that require workers to pay union dues as a pre-condition of employment. Forcing workers to pay dues for any organization is simply wrong. Private sector unions can and should exist and they would be better advocates for workers if they actually have to prove they are worthy of membership.

It is worth noting that 20 of the 24 current “right to work” states have higher private sector unionization rates than New Mexico. In other words, due to the historical weakness of New Mexico’s private sector, these unions have had relatively few members. If New Mexico can strengthen its private sector with “right to work” and some other pro-growth policy reforms, private sector unions could see real growth.

Union growth took place in “right to work” states between 2011 and 2012 when those states saw an overall increase of 39,000 union members while non-“right to work” states lost 390,000 members, a 3.4 percent decrease.

Despite recent statements to the contrary by AFL-CIO president Jon Hendry a “right to work” law won’t kill New Mexico’s film industry. In fact, according to a report by Film Production Capital which ranked state film programs, the top three film-friendly states (Louisiana, Georgia, and North Carolina) are all “right to work.” New Mexico was ranked 7th.

The real reason New Mexico policymakers are looking seriously at “right to work” is the potential economic and job-growth potential. By any reasonable measuring stick, “right to work” states have been outperforming “forced unionism” states for years. In 2013, 8 of the top 10 states in job growth were “right to work.”

Between 2002 and 2012, fully 9 of the top 10 states in job growth were “right to work.” On the other hand, each of ten slowest-growth states over that time span lacked a “right to work” law.

Notably, while job growth is higher in “right to work” states, personal income growth is growing faster in these states as well.

Yes, but isn’t “right to work” really “right to work for less?” It is true that “forced unionism” states have higher median incomes, but once those incomes are adjusted for living costs, it is in the “right to work” states that a median personal income goes further. In fact, once cost of living is accounted for, the median income in “right to work” states is about $5,000 higher than in “forced-unionism” states.

If “right to work” were so awful and really meant the destruction of worker incomes, one might expect that such states would be losing population. The reality is, however, that Americans are moving in ever-greater numbers to “right to work” states. According to the US Census, between 2000 and 2010, “right to work” states saw their populations grow by nearly 16 percent while other states grew by about 6 percent.

Lastly, contrary to the hysterical statements of union leaders, “right to work” is popular. According to a national Gallup poll released in August, 65 percent of Democrats support “right to work” while an even more overwhelming 3 of 4 Republicans and independents supported it.

Those are enviable popularity numbers for any politician, but it is even more noteworthy that in the same Gallup poll Americans approved of unions 53-38 percent. In other words, Americans understand that one can support unions and support “right to work” at the same time.

Our children shouldn’t have to leave our state to find decent jobs. We can begin reforming our economy by making New Mexico “right to work.”

Paul Gessing is the President of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility