Showdown Over Right To Work
Like its New England neighbors, New Hampshire has long been perceived as a friendly state for labor unions. Much like Wisconsin, many would view it as an unlikely candidate for legal reforms that attempt to shift the balance away from organized labor. Yet New Hampshire stands poised to become the first state in many years, and the only one within the Northeastern United States, to pass comprehensive right-to-work legislation that would do just that. Even more remarkably, a growing number of other states are now entertaining the same notion.
We believe this may be the start of a nationwide trend.
In 1947, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act over President Truman's veto. Among other things, it amended the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to outlaw "closed shops," through which employers agreed with unions to employ only dues-paying members. As an alternative, Taft-Hartley permitted arrangements, in which the parties utilized "union security" clauses to require employees to either join the union, or to pay a fee that was equivalent to union dues, within a specified period of time after hire. Such workplaces are referred to as "union shops" or more commonly "agency shops."
Among the more controversial sections of Taft-Hartley was an additional provision allowing states to enact their own "right-to work" laws, prohibiting even agency shop arrangements. Not to be confused with "employment-at-will" statutes, right-to-work legislation prohibits unions and employers from agreeing to impose union membership or the payment of dues as a condition of employment. Since that time, 22 states (primarily in the southeast and southwest) have enacted various forms of right-to-work legislation, the most recent being Oklahoma in 2001. Analyzing various statistics, the National Institute for Labor Relations Research has drawn a strong correlation between these laws and ensuing economic growth. Among the 22 right-to-work states, private sector (non-farm) employment grew by 3.7% from 1999 to 2009, while shrinking 2.8% within the 28 remaining states. During that decade, real personal income rose 28.3% in right-to-work states, while dropping 14.7% elsewhere. Oklahoma offers the most recent case in point, reflecting a 13.6% growth rate in real personal income between 2003 and 2006 alone – over twice as fast as the average in non-right-to-work states.
Businesses create jobs. Jobs build income. And more income leads to a better way of life for most Americans. Proponents of right-to-work laws point to these statistics as evidence that forced-unionism states (i.e., states without right-to-work laws in place) are losing the economic development game. Consequently, it's not surprising that many of those states are now seriously considering right-to-work legislation to jump-start their troubled economies.
Currently, 13 states are considering right-to-work initiatives to promote job growth. Indiana Representative Jerry Torr explained it this way: "What I'm trying to do is bring jobs to Indiana. We have lost manufacturing jobs in Indiana because we are not a right-to-work state."
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