Obama says ‘Right-to-Work’ is the right to work — for less. Not so fast
The recent enactment of a right-to-work law in Michigan, of all places, provoked a remarkable comment from President Obama: “These so-called ‘right to work’ laws, they don’t have to do with economics; they have everything to do with politics,” he said. “What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.”
It’s true that wages in right-to-work (RTW) states tend to be lower than in non-right-to-work (NRTW) states. However, adjusted for the cost of living, per capita disposable personal income is $2,000 greater in RTW states than in NRTW states, according to the National Institute for Labor Relations Research. The organization is a research facility for the general public, scholars and students and provides analysis and research necessary “to expose the inequities of compulsory unionism,” according to its mission.
Moreover, says the institute, over the past decade, real employee compensation in RTW states grew four times as much as in NRTW states – 12.5 percent versus just 3.1 percent.
President Obama claims credit for any job growth, but 72 percent of all net household job growth in the U.S. Since 2009 was in RTW states, according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. No wonder more than 4.7 million Americans moved from NRTW states to RTW states from 2000 to 2008, according to a 2010 study published by the Cato Institute.
Why does the president nevertheless insist that the right to work is really just “the right to work for less?”
Follow the money.
Big Labor claims that President Obama owes his re-election to the unions – with some justification. Obama outspent challenger Mitt Romney by more than $250 million, according to OpenSecrets.org. In 2010, Democrats got more than that from just three public-sector unions: American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Service Employees International Union and National Education Association.
In the 2010 mid-term elections, political activities by these three unions alone totaled $1.3 billion, according to Labor Department filings published by The Wall Street Journal. Of their direct expenditures reported to the Federal Election Commission, about 85 percent went to Democrats, versus just 2.5 percent to Republicans, according to a 2011 report from the Manhattan Institute.
If their total political activities follow their direct expenditures, these three unions contributed more than $1 billion to Democrats in 2010. Assuming they were as active in the 2012 presidential election as in the 2010 congressional election, public-sector unions alone gave Democrats more than four times Obama’s spending advantage over Romney.
Of course, unions have the same right to engage in political activities as corporations. In RTW states, unions and corporations are in the same boat: They may use corporate or union funds for political activities, but can obtain such funds from employees or customers only voluntarily: Any worker who disagrees with a particular union’s politics is free not to pay dues to that union without being fired — just as federal law prohibits any employer from firing an employee for refusing to contribute to a corporate PAC. Likewise, any customer who doesn’t like Walmart’s political views is free to boycott it, patronizing Target, Kmart, or any of its other competitors.
Unions in NRTW states are different. In those states, a worker can be fired simply for withholding dues for its political use. Most rank-and-file union members oppose this situation, but they have no more voice in such policies than they do in their union’s political stance: In a 2004 Zogby survey for Mackinac Center, a strong majority (63 percent) of union members nationwide said it is “unfair for a worker to lose their job if he or she refuses to pay dues to, or support, a union.”
These workers echo a sentiment expressed 235 years ago by Thomas Jefferson: that “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”