Generating Opportunity with Local Right-to-Work

Seaford City, Delaware is leading the way for worker freedom in the North East. At the end of 2017, Seaford brought right-to-work (RTW) to Delaware. Right-to-work gives employees a choice as to whether or not they want to join or support a union. States and localities without right-to-work laws allow unions to force employees to join or pay dues as a condition of employment.

Seaford City Mayor David Genshaw held a press conference explaining the council’s motivation to “grow and retain jobs” and improve the city’s economic conditions. Seaford has been hit hard by the withdrawal of manufacturing jobs at a nearby Nylon plant that used to employ 4,000 people. After seeing the economic benefit of right-to-work in 28 states, Mayor Genshaw and the Seaford City Council moved past the status quo and adopted policy that has been shown to promote job opportunities, population growth and capital investment in other states.

Local right-to-work gained initial popularity in Kentucky when 12 localities passed local right-to-work ordinances that later culminated in state level legislation. The local ordinances were challenged in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals who upheld the ordinances and then were later appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court who declined to hear the appeal. The court decision paved the way for other localities to pursue local right-to-work ordinances in other states.

Opponents of right-to-work perpetuate misleading catch phrases like “right-to-work for less” and “free riders.” Economic data shows that states with right-to-work have flat or higher real wages, twice the employment growth, population increases and capital inflows compared to non-RTW states. Proponents of the “right-to-work for less” moniker are being disingenuous not taking into account cost of living differences between states and leaving out secondary economic benefits. Matt Patterson, President of 1st Amendment First, tackles the “free riders” argument by explaining that, “unions are not required to seek exclusive representation. In fact it is perfectly permissible for them to bargain for members-only contracts.” Unions can choose who they bargain for and represent. They intentionally try to unionize entire workplaces to increase membership, in essence opting themselves into what they call a “free rider” problem, by choosing to represent people that do not want to be represented.

Residents of Ashland, Kentucky discuss their desire for economic development and opportunity for future generations of Kentuckians.

Giving workers more choice holds unions accountable to the members that they represent. Robert Alt, President of the Buckeye Institute, says that right-to-work “has a positive effect of making unions more responsive to the needs and desires of the workers,” Alt says. “That makes the unions, ultimately, I think, more effective.” If worker choice hurts a union, that is a strong signal that the workers are not being fairly represented. Unions should not rely on government legislation to maintain membership numbers, but instead show tangible benefits relative to the dues they collect. This level of accountability is only possible if workers are free to choose whether or not they want to join or pay dues to a union.

Far from being a union death knell, the passage of right-to-work in Indiana lead to an increase in union membership of 58,000 people between 2012-2016 far exceeding Illinois’, a non-RTW state, union membership increase of 11,000 over the same time period. The economic impact associated with right-to-work creates more job opportunities increasing overall union membership. Growing the pie with sound economic policy benefits the workers, the union and the state alike.

The American City County Exchange (ACCE) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have model policy to address right-to-work issues at the local and state levels.