Right-to-work opponents have long claimed that such laws are not worker friendly. Mark Gaffney, president of AFL-CIO, reiterated this claim in his July 20th Op-Ed in The Detroit News with the moniker right-to-work (for less). But his claims are just plain wrong.

Gaffney asserts that workers’ average annual pay in right-to-work states was $4,476 less than the average pay a Michigan worker received in 2009. While this single statistic is true, the real story lies in personal income, which grew 46.8 percent in right-to-work states from 2000 to 2010, compared to 33.7 percent in non-right-to-work states. Michigan saw per-capita personal income grow just 16.1 percent over the same time period.

This difference becomes even sharper when one considers personal disposable income (the money someone has left to spend after taxes) and population separately. From 2000 to 2010, personal disposable income increased 50.3 percent in right-to-work states compared to 37.2 percent for non-right-to-work-states, while Michigan managed a paltry 20.3 percent increase.

And right-to-work states experienced large population gains of 15.3 percent from 2000 to 2010, compared to 5.9 percent in non-right-to-work states, with Michigan losing 0.7 percent of its population over the same time period. People voted with their feet and moved to states where companies created jobs with increasing wages; increased demand for labor increases worker’s wages.

Gaffney also claims right-to-work states are less safe than Michigan and other non-right-to-work states. But again his statistics do not stand up to scrutiny. Occupational injuries in right-to-work states, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, were 3.5 per 100 employees in 2009 compared to 3.9 per 100 workers in non-right-to-work states. This means roughly 1.6 million workers were injured while working in right-to-work states compared to 2.4 million workers in non-right-to-work states. The fatalities in right-to-work states are slightly higher than in non-right-to-work states, 4.3 vs. 3.1 per 100,000 workers. But this translates to about 2,200 total occupational deaths in right-to-work states compared to 2,400 total occupational deaths in non-right-to-work states. Unions have little to no influence on either occurrence, and if they did, they would be more likely to lessen commonly occurring injuries rather than rare fatalities.  Yet, non-right-to-work states have thousands more workplace-related injuries and hundreds more workplace-related deaths than right-to-work states.    

Regardless of all these averages, rates and percentages, Michigan workers know jobs fled the state and that they have less money to spend on things they need like groceries, utilities and mortgages. But the facts do not lie: unions have not done much, if anything, to improve Michigan workers’ situations. It is time to hold unions accountable for their reckless behavior; it is time to empower worker free choice.