Commentary

Separating fact from fiction in Kentucky's new right-to-work law

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State lawmakers wasted no time in making Kentucky the 27th right-to-work state in the country last month. This is great news for hardworking families. The 26 other states that already have right-to-work laws have consistently outperformed the national average in nearly all economic measures.

Unfortunately, some opponents of right-to-work have responded by spreading a mountain of misinformation about what the law means for our state. On such an important issue, it’s important to set the record straight.

The first thing needing clarification is what exactly right-to-work legislation is. In its simplest form, right-to-work provides every Kentuckian with the freedom to choose whether he or she joins a union or pays dues to work.

This starkly contrasts the days when membership in a union — which usually included hundreds of dollars in annual dues and fees — was a condition of employment. No one should be forced to decide whether to join a union or lose their job. Right-to-work fixes that.

Next up is the misleading claim about what union activists refer to as “free riders,” or people who don’t pay dues to the union but still get the supposed benefits of representation. Where that’s true, it’s only by unions’ own choosing.

In reality, unions have chosen to become the “exclusive bargaining representative” for all employees when negotiating with a company’s management. This means workers who do not wish to join the union, but are forced to accept their representation, are “forced riders,” not “free riders.” Before right-to-work, unions chose this route because it meant they got more dues-paying members. Now they’re simply trying to have their cake and eat it too.

Right-to-work opponents also claim it will decimate union membership and prohibit collective bargaining as we know it. Neither of these claims are true.

In fact, two years after Indiana passed right-to-work in 2012, the state’s union membership had actually grown by 50,000 members according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Without being able to force people into joining, unions had to start improving their services to attract more members. They are still free to collectively bargain just as they always have. The only difference is that now unions have to encourage — rather than coerce — new members to join.

Opponents of the law claim it will somehow hurt jobs. The actual data show the opposite: From 2004 to 2014, the economies of right-to-work states’ grew 19.3 percent nearly double the 10.2 percent growth of other states, according to data from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis.

These stronger economies also produced more jobs. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2005-2015 employment rolls grew twice as fast in right-to-work states.

This growth is a reality in Kentucky, not just other states. When Warren County passed right-to-work legislation in 2014, it quickly received 47 queries for new economic developments. Since then, the county has seen over $1 billion in capital investment, with tens of thousands of new jobs created, according to the Bluegrass Institute. That sort of growth should be encouraged across the entire state.

Last but not least, right-to-work opponents claim these laws result in lower incomes overtime. This too is misleading spin.

These claims ignore the higher cost-of-living in most non-right-to-work states (think New York, Massachusetts, California, etc.). Once adjusted for these natural differences, a 2015 Heritage Foundation study found private-sector workers earn about the same in right-to-work and non-right-to-work states alike.

These are the facts of right to work. It strengthens economies, creates more good-paying jobs and promotes worker freedoms. It also allows labor unions to continue collectively bargaining on behalf of their members as they always have.

We applaud state lawmakers for having the courage to take on this principled reform. Kentuckians will continue reap the benefits for years to come.

Julia Crigler is the Kentucky state director of Americans for Prosperity.

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