Worker Freedom Wins Big on Election Night

As I wrote over the summer, with the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, many feared that right-to-work laws “now in effect in 26 states are just one Democratic appointee away from extinction.”

This gloomy forecast would strip millions of workers the right to refrain from paying fees to a union that they do not support and likely never voted for.

But as with recent past elections, pro-worker freedom candidates ruled the day on election night. Now with Republicans controlling the Executive and Congress, right to work is safe from being overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The labor union lawsuits against right-to-work will likely wither on the vine.

Instead of right-to-work laws facing an existential threat, it is highly likely that the tally of right to work states grows. After the elections, three states have the potential to pass right to work.

For the first time in 95 years, Republicans took control of the state House of Representatives in Kentucky. This complements Republican control of the Senate and Governor’s office. The Bluegrass state is a prime candidate to pass right-to-work legislation. Already several counties in the state had passed local ordinances that grant workers the freedom to choose whether or not to pay union dues.

In Missouri, right to work became a pivotal policy issue in the Governor’s race, a result of Governor Jay Nixon (D-MO) vetoing right-to-work legislation passed by the House and Senate. Republicans in the state legislature in 2015.  

In 2016, the people in the Show-Me state chose the worker freedom candidate with Eric Greitens (R) winning the election and maintain control of the state House and Senate.

One more state may flip from forced-unionism to right to work. In New Hampshire, the state legislature passed right to work in 2011, but was vetoed by the Governor. In 2015, the New Hampshire House passed right to work, but went no further. Now with Chris Sununu (R) elected governor of New Hampshire, right to work has an opportunity to pass.

Worker freedom was also directly on the ballot in three states. Two states, Alabama and Virginia, had ballot measures that sought to enshrine right to work into the constitution. On the flipside, unions pushed a ballot initiative to overturn right to work in South Dakota.

Alabama successfully placed right to work in its constitution, with 70 percent approval. In one of the few black marks, worker freedom narrowly lost out in Virginia. Fortunately, right to work remains the law of the land by statute, but Old Dominion state voters rejected the amendment, with 53.63 percent against and 46.38 in favor of right to work. In South Dakota, voters rejected overturning the state’s right to work status.  

This should not come as a surprise. As I recently wrote in an op-ed:

Americans prefer right-to-work status — and so do union members. In 2014, a Gallup poll asked whether individuals would vote for right-to-work legislation. A majority of 71 percent said they would vote for right to work, with only 22 percent saying they would not. And in 2015, National Employee Freedom Week, a nationwide coalition, released the results of a scientific survey of union members. One question asked, "[S]hould employees have the right to decide, without force or penalty, whether to join or leave a labor union?" Slightly over 75 percent of surveyed union members answered "Yes" to the question.

Furthermore, as the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s “Labor Reform in the States” shows, elected officials that vote in favor of worker freedom reforms overwhelmingly win reelection and their party picks up more seats.

Right-to-work laws are so popular for two primary reasons. One, it only makes sense that voters support the commonsense proposal to give workers the freedom to choose how to spend their hard-earned money. People in America have shown that they approve of individual choice and worker freedom.

Two, right to work provides economic benefits. As recent research from the Competitive Enterprise Institute finds, incomes rise in worker freedom states. I recently summarized the economic benefits in a report:

It calculated and ranked states’ per capita income loss from not having RTW law over a 35-year period (1977-2012), while controlling for variables like population growth, manufacturing capacity, and education level. Results find a significant and positive relationship between economic growth in a state and the presence of a right to work law.

Workers’ incomes rise when right to work laws are in place. Real personal income, over the duration the study grew by 123 percent across the United States, but RTW states saw a much faster growth rate of 165 percent, while non-RTW only saw below average growth of 99 percent.

Had non-RTW states adopted RTW laws in 1977, the first year of the period analyzed, annual income levels would be an estimated $3,000 per person higher in 2012, or more than $13,000 for a family of four, according to the study’s regression analysis. The total estimated income loss in 2012 from the lack of RTW laws in 28 U.S. states was $647.8 billion.

Hopefully, Congress will take note of the success of pro-worker freedom policies in the states and also liberalize labor markets. It has been a proven winner in the recent past.