Right-to-work laws change the incentive structure for unions. Because a union in a right-to-work state must persuade individual workers to pay union dues, unions are more likely to focus on bread-and-butter issues of pay, benefits and working conditions that provide immediate benefits to workers, and less likely to negotiate complex agreements that enhance their control over the workplace — and unionized workers — at the cost of impeding productivity.
As a consequence, unions in right-to-work states are less of a drain on productivity, but not at the expense of workers. The benefits for employers are obvious; in a right-to-work state employers receive more productivity for each employee compensation dollar.
For employees, the benefit of a right-to-work law may be less obvious, but flows inevitably from fundamental economics: higher labor productivity in right-to-work states results in more demand for labor, and as demand increases, more jobs are offered and the wages attached to those jobs go up. The basic economic record bears this out: both jobs and wages are increasing faster in right-to-work states, a win-win proposition for workers.
If anything the advantage of right-to-work status is growing: comparing the 30-year period from 1970 to 2000 that Wilson covered with the 2001-2006 period covered by this report, we find larger gaps in GSP growth and job creation, both in favor of right-to-work states. Disposable income remains lower in right-to-work states, but right to-work states had been "catching up" in this category prior to 2000. The process accelerated between 2001 and 2006 to the point where the typical right-to-work state will surpass Michigan in a few years.
For Michigan, a state undergoing a difficult economic transition, the enactment of right-to-work legislation would make the state’s workers more attractive to new employers, giving a boost to employment and wages at a time when both are sagging.
Michigan has a right to be proud of its past as a leader in providing workers with plentiful jobs at excellent wages, but its residents and political leaders must recognize that policies that were effective in the past are not viable now. The state’s acceptance of compulsory union membership, and the burdens it placed on employers, could be borne easily when the state was the center of a lucrative industry that faced little competition.
But all industries confront new competition, and the auto industry in particular faces new competitors that do not bear that burden of compulsory unionism, either because they have avoided union representation or because they have located in right-to-work states. Michigan should not let pride in its past blind it to changes that are taking place today. The right-to-work states are poised to overtake Michigan in both job creation and wages. It is doubtful that Michigan can beat them. The state would be better off joining them.