The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 07, 2011

Right-to-work theories for Michigan based on ‘junk science’

By The Building Tradesman

With Michigan on the front lines of the right-to-work debate – some hard-right state Republicans are pushing for a vote before the end of the year – the Economic Policy Institute is helping organized labor in our state fight back with information.

The labor-backed think-tank issued an extensive briefing paper Sept. 15 titled “Right to Work – The wrong answer for Michigan’s economy.” Written by Gordon Lafer, the paper, unsurprisingly, finds nothing right about right to work.

With the contraction of the auto industry and with one of the consistently highest jobless rates in the nation, Lafer writes, “Michigan’s economy is one of the most challenging in the country. Lawmakers are looking for all potential ways to improve economic performance. The track record of right-to-work laws clearly shows that they are not a good candidate for that role.”

The full 20-page report can be accessed at The report is easily the most in-depth source of information on the subject we’ve seen related specifically to the State of Michigan. Following are excerpts of the Economic Policy Institute study, which we will also be publishing in future issues:

“Lawmakers in several states are being told that they can solve their states’ unemployment problems by adopting right-to-work statutes. Right-to-work laws do not, as one might think, confer any sort of right to a job. Nor do they have anything to do with people being forced to join a union or pay dues for political causes they do not support.

“Federal law already guarantees that no one can be forced to join a union, and no one can be required to pay union dues that fund political causes they oppose.

“What is permitted under federal law is for a group of employees to propose – and if their employer agrees, to write into a contract – that all employees who benefit from the terms of a union contract are required to pay their fair share of the costs of administering that contract.

Right-to-work laws make it illegal for employees and employers to negotiate such a contract. By making it harder for workers’ organizations to sustain themselves financially, right-to-work laws aim to weaken unions’ bargaining strength.

“When unions are weaker, wages and benefits decline for all workers, because nonunion employers face less competitive pressure to meet union wage standards. Indeed, right to work is promoted as a strategy for attracting new businesses to locate in a

state precisely because it lowers wages and benefits, weakens workplace protections, and decreases the likelihood that employers will be required to negotiate with their employees.

“Because service industries are not mobile – schools and hospitals have to be sited near the kids and sick people they serve – right-to-work laws primarily address manufacturing. Essentially, right to work is a strategy for attracting out-of-state manufacturers by undermining union strength and therefore lowering wages and benefits.

“Proponents of a right-to-work law in Michigan suggest that it would increase job growth and incomes in the state. The Strategic Task Force on Jobs of the 2010 Michigan House Republican Caucus suggests that “states with right to work laws have the fastest growing economies.”

“Freedom to Work creates prosperity,” says the Michigan Freedom to Work Coalition, adding that “the Freedom to Work Act would make Michigan a jobs magnet.”

Mackinac Center-affiliated scholar Stephen Moore echoes this conviction, calling right-to-work “the single most important thing” that could help turn around the state’s

economic fortunes.

These assertions appear to be based, in large part, on information supplied by advocates in the National Right to Work Committee, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and other anti-union organizations. The National Right to Work Committee, for instance, claims that there is “overwhelming evidence indicating that Right to Work laws are… economically beneficial.

“However, the economic claims made by the National Right to Work Committee are without any scientific foundation. If the committee’s arguments were presented as evidence in civil litigation, they would be dismissed as what the courts call ‘junk science.’ If a college student presented such an analysis for their thesis, it would be rejected for faulty methodology.

“In an economy the size of the United States, it is always possible for advocates to selectively choose a few numbers that seem to illustrate their viewpoint. But legislators should not rely on anecdotes or misleading numbers when rigorous, statistically scientific analysis of the impact of right-to-work laws is available.

“The scientific – as opposed to ideological – analysis of right-to-work laws shows that right-to-work laws lower wages and benefits for both union and nonunion workers alike, while having no positive impact whatsoever on job growth.”