8 Questions About Right to Work, Answered

Dec 11, 2015

"Brother" Wilson came armed with his Bible to fight right to work proposals.

West Virginia is likely to become the 26th “right-to-work” state when the legislature meets in January. GOP leaders say they have the votes, and they can override Gov. Tomblin’s veto with a simple majority.

How would passing a right-to-work (RTW) law change West Virginia?

On The Front Porch podcast, pro-RTW Laurie Lin of the Charleston Gazette-Mail debated anti-RTW Rick Wilson of the American Friends Service Committee. They had a hard time agreeing on what language to use.

“Allow me to refer to it as ‘right to work for less,’ which is more accurate,” Wilson said. “Who could be against the ‘right to work’ just by the name of it?”

Lin replied, “It is equally Orwellian to call non- right-to-work states, as people on the left do, ‘free bargaining states.’ The free bargain is between the union and the employer. The worker has nothing to do with it.”

Based on their conversation, we attempt to answer 8 questions you may have about right to work in West Virginia.

A new WVU study predicts jobs and GDP would be higher if West Virginia passes right to work legislation.

Will it create more jobs?

A WVU study says yes:  ”States with a RTW policy in place have a rate of employment growth that is around 0.44 percentage points higher than other states.”

But other studies show little or no net job gain. It all depends on how you control for other variables – and that’s hard to do.

Wilson's handwritten list of reasons to oppose right to work, on his well-worn Bible.

Will it increase economic growth?

Again, the WVU study says yes. Wilson cites a Kentucky study saying a lack of trained workers, not a lack of right to work, is the main reason that state lags others in the South.

Will it lead to lower wages?

“They are lower in right-to-work states,” Lin said. “The point is, you have to control for all the differences.” After controlling for outside factors, different studies have found wages go down, stay the same, or go up.

Would it undermine labor standards in the long run?

“People who are members of unions are more likely to have living wages, benefits, paid sick days, things like that,” Wilson said. “Unions also help set standards of living…generally where you have a strong labor movement, you have a higher standard of living.”

Lin questioned whether the unions are a victim of their own success, with many labor gains now written into law.

Would it lead to a decrease in worker safety?

An SNL Energy study from earlier this year showed that union mines in Appalachia were both safer and more productive.

“Let’s just look at Upper Big Branch, that was once a union mine,” Wilson said.

Massey Energy acquired the mine, the union was decertified, and Massey’s “culture of deviance,” according to Wilson, helped lead to the explosion that killed 29 men.

“We’re headed toward Masseyland. Is that where you want to live?” Wilson asked.

Lin replied that other studies have shown little effect in other industries. “There isn’t any rock-solid study that shows 100 percent the effect on health and safety,” Lin said.

A new WVU study says employment and GDP would increase if the state passes right to work legislation.

Will passing “right to work” weaken unions and Democrats in West Virginia?

The WVU study , Lin and Wilson all say yes.

“Where does this money go that is forcibly extracted from people’s paychecks?” Lin asked. “It goes to Democrats and to progressive causes.”

What role did racism and bigotry play in the birth of the Right to Work movement?

Wilson wrote about the history in a Charleston Gazette-Mail article:

“The person who came up with the name and launched the movement to enact it as law was a Texas businessman and politico named Vance Muse, who lived from 1890 to 1950. An unabashed racist and anti-Semite, he bitterly opposed the labor law reforms of the New Deal, which he sometimes referred to as ‘the Jew Deal.’”

“Racism and union-busting go together like peas and carrots,” Wlison said.

Lin said that the pro-union prevailing wage also had its roots in similar bigotry.

“I don’t know how useful it is to bring that up unless you’re claiming that the people supporting right to work, here, now in West Virginia, are doing it out of a racial motivation.”

Will passing right to work lead to a voter backlash against Republicans?

“Fortune is a wheel. Sometimes you win by losing. So let the games begin,” Wilson said.

Lin agrees that Democrats will attempts to use this in the 2016 election. But she noted that Democrats had very limited success using this issue after right-to-work laws passed in Michigan and other states.