by Matt Rosenberg December 14th, 2012
Even in the most pro-union U.S. states, where payment of basic union dues for negotiating work is compulsory for represented members of a collective bargaining unit, the actual percentage of all employees covered under contracts between organized labor and management in 2011 was just 17 percent. But only 15.8 percent of workers in such “union security” states in 2011 were actually union members; because under federal law they can still decline that classification and decline to be charged additional dues for political lobbying. In so-called right-to-work states, where payment of basic union dues by represented workers isn’t mandatory, the drop-off was the exact same in 2011, 1.2 percent. Some 6.9 percent of workers were covered by union contracts in RTW states and 5.7 percent were union members. Across all 50 states, union membership has declined from 20.1 percent in 1983 to 11.8 percent in 2011. In union security states the decline was from 24.3 percent to 15.8 percent over the same 28-year stretch, and in right-to-work states it dropped from 11.6 percent to 5.7 percent. All this and more is highlighted in a new report from the Congressional Research Service titled “Right to Work Laws: Legislative Background and Empirical Research.”
The report says that from 2001 to 2011 jobs grew 3.5 percent overall in right-to-work states versus a 2.5 percent decline in union security states. U.S. government 2011 data show average annual wages were $50,867 in union security states, versus $43,641 in right-to-work states. That does not factor in cost of living, which differs by state.
All in all, according to author Benjamin Collins, a labor policy analyst for CRS,
The CRS report says some research suggests state adoption of right-to-work laws tends to follow an already-set general preference against unions; at the least it is clear that across the U.S. union membership is declining “independent of RTW policies.” But the report also acknowledges, though doesn’t endorse, analyses suggesting that ending compulsory payment of basic dues by beneficiaries of collective bargaining allows the proliferation of so-called “free riders” who as their numbers grow over time, can tend to undercut the power and marketability of labor unions.
So-called right-to-work laws have been adopted in 24 U.S. states, most recently Michigan last week. They do not bar collective bargaining or union membership but they do give workers who are represented by unions the option of sidestepping any and all union dues and union membership. The CRS report notes that the first right-to-work laws were passed from 1943 to 1947 by 12 states: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. In the 1950s six more states adopted right-to-work laws; Nevada, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Utah and Kansas. From the 1960 through the 1990s three more states did; Wyoming, Louisiana, and Idaho. Oklahoma went right-to-work in 2001 and Indiana in 2012, followed by Michigan.
The study concludes, “difficulties associated with rigorously studying the relationships between RTW laws and various outcomes are likely to continue to make it difficult to generate definitive findings about these relationships. As such, the ongoing debate on RTW may be driven by factors other than rigorous empirical evidence.”
The Congressional Research Service serves as the policy research arm of the U.S. Congress. Its reports are not allowed by Congress to be made available to the public. However, internal sources at CRS regularly provide recent reports to the Federation of American Scientists which posts them online.