Right-to-Work and Human Dignity
Acton Institute Powerblog

Right-to-Work and Human Dignity

Public policy wonks and economists frequently warn us to consider the unintended consequences of any given initiative. That would be good exercise when considering campaigns to raise the minimum wage and also calls to roll back “right-to-work” (RTW) legislation. The former presumably helps those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, while the latter is castigated as an attack on unions’ right to collective bargaining and, therefore, harmful to middle-class workers. It follows then, that if one prioritizes economic opportunity and egalitarianism, raising the minimum wage should be championed while right-to-work should be buried in a government warehouse the way the Ark of the Covenant was entombed in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

On their respective surfaces both approaches would appear slam dunks for the common good and the fundamental dignity of workers. Counterintuitive, however, is the notion that unintended consequences may undermine, negate or detrimentally impact those they were designed to benefit. In the case of raising the minimum wage, Acton’s Samuel Gregg addressed the topic adroitly on May 22 – yet both parties in the state and national legislatures continue to fall over themselves to pass such initiatives. For example, Michigan Republicans voted late last month to increase the state’s minimum wage less than two years after becoming the 24th RTW state in the Union.

Rejecting RTW in states where it’s considered currently or overturning it in states where it’s been enacted is another rallying call for social justice advocates. If one is to consider these advocates’ arguments at face value it’s also fair play to consider whether they’re cutting off the noses of those they’re claiming to help in order to spite the companies for which they might work.

With U.S. economic growth showing signs of stalling out, and intractable joblessness, it’s interesting to note what states recognize the highest employment. Using U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau data, Jarrett Skorup at the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy showed that “[N]early all of the top 10 states for job growth are right-to-work states, while nearly all of the 10 states with the least amount of job growth are non-right-to-work states.” (Full disclosure: your writer is a former Mackinac Center staff member, and Mr. Skorup has been documented catching fish on my river frontage)

Skorup continues:

More broadly, 18 out of the 25 states with the fastest employment growth are right-to-work states while 19 of the 25 states with the slowest growth are non-right-to-work states….

For the past nearly quarter of a century, right-to-work states have averaged job growth at about twice the rate of non-right-to-work states.

Excluding Michigan and Indiana (which became right-to-work in 2013 and 2012, respectively) would mean that 21 out of the 25 states with the slowest employment growth are forced unionization states. And that all of the 10 states with the least amount of job growth for the past quarter century are non-right-to-work states.

The employment growth was measured from January of 1990 to April of 2014.

Skorup notes that there exists no correlation between the data and the recent growth of such industries as oil and gas production in RTW states. “[T]he states benefiting the most from this industry’s growth are almost evenly split between right-to-work and non-right-to-work states.” Skorup quotes University of Michigan-Flint Economics Professor Mark Perry:

This confirms previous research that shows that economic performance when measured by job growth, unemployment rates, income growth, or new business creation is generally higher in right-to-work states than in forced unionism states…. When thousands of firms make decisions on the expansion of their existing operations, opening businesses or factories in new locations, and possibly relocating their businesses, labor costs and labor flexibility are primary considerations. Compared to forced unionism states, right-to-work states offer U.S. and U.S. based companies a more business friendly environment, lower labor costs and greater workplace flexibility, and it makes sense that right-to-work states have demonstrated a clear ‘job growth advantage’ over their forced unionism counterparts since 1990.

None of this, of course, is to deny workers’ dignity and the necessary protections thereof from exploitation. Work, wrote Pope John Paul II in his 1981 Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercens, “is not only good in the sense that it is useful or something to enjoy; it is also good as being something worthy, that is to say, something that corresponds to man’s dignity and increases it.” He continues: “Work is a good thing for man – a good thing for humanity – because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being.’”

In fact, Pope John Paul II prioritizes honest labor above all else: “Man must work, both because the Creator has commanded it and because of his own humanity, which requires work in order to be maintained and developed.” The priority of workers necessitates employment opportunities, which the pontiff identifies as a fundamental issue. Collective labor contracts, he writes, often result in “lack of work for those who are capable of it,” which he identifies as “[t]he opposite of a just and right situation.”

Readers will note that RTW doesn’t ban unionization per se, but only forced unionization as a condition of employment. Adopting and/or maintaining RTW legislation is, as shown by the most recent government statistics, the best way of both protecting current and encouraging the new jobs necessary for granting fundamental human dignity.

 

Bruce Edward Walker

has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. He was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News from 2010-2012. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2011 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past five years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Flint, Mich., with his wife Katherine.