By Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder
In 2009, President Barack Obama went to Elkhart, Ind., to discuss his plans for America’s slumping economy.
His choice to make Elkhart the poster child for unemployment was intentional. At the time Elkhart had the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 20.3 percent.
Fast forward to 2013 and the federal government announced Elkhart County, Ind., was No. 3 in the nation for job growth. Indeed, the entire state of Indiana had one of the fastest growing economies in the nation between 2012 and 2013. Today, Elkhart’s unemployment rate is down to 5 percent.
In 2012, Indiana became the 23rd state to pass freedom to work. Since then, towns across the state have seen a surge in hiring. Indiana’s Secretary of Commerce Daniel Hasler cited his state’s right-to-work law for enabling him to convince companies to relocate or expand in Indiana.
The same situation is occurring in Michigan, which passed right to work in 2013. This year, Wisconsin became the 25th state to pass right-to-work.
Now Missouri is poised to become the 26th state if the Legislature can find the votes this week to override Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of the right-to-work legislation that Missouri lawmakers passed earlier this year.
Simply stated, right to work specifies that no worker can be forced to join a union, pay dues, pay a union fee, or make a donation in lieu of dues in order to obtain or keep their job. Under right to work, workers still have the option to join a union and pay dues, but they can’t be forced to do so.
Opponents of right to work in Missouri claim it will reduce wages, cut jobs and kill unions. These are the same arguments they made in Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. In fact, these are the same arguments they’ve made for decades.
But the data refute these claims. Job growth and income levels are greater in right-to-work states vs. forced-union states, and more telling, union membership rises in states that enact right-to-work legislation.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2002 and 2012, right-to-work states saw 11.9 percent growth in the number of private sector jobs, while forced-union states saw a 2.3 percent decline in private sector jobs.
From 1990-2012, right-to-work states made up 13 of the 20 states with the fastest growing median household incomes. Of the 15 states that had slower income growth than the national average, 10 of them were non-right-to-work states.
Let’s look again at Indiana. In March 2012, the month the Hoosier State’s right-to-work law took effect, average weekly earnings for private-sector employees were $732.48. By December 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated the average weekly earnings were $803.56.
Despite right-to-work naysayers’ dire warnings, weekly earnings in Indiana rose almost 10 percent in a little less than three years, more than double the earnings increase nationwide over the same period.
Since Michigan passed its right-to-work law in 2013, weekly earnings there also are increasing at twice the rate as workers’ earnings nationwide.
Another mantra opponents continually recite is that freedom-to-work laws are “anti-union.”
Again, the data don’t support this claim.
In Indiana, union membership has actually increased – from 9.1 percent of all workers in 2012, to 10.7 percent last year. As jobs were added in the Hoosier state and more people went back to work, construction activity – much of it union work – increased.
This trend is true nationwide as well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2013 that right-to-work states had an overall increase of 39,000 union members while non-right-to-work states lost 390,000, a 3.4 percent decrease.
Freedom to work further benefits unions and their members because it forces union leaders to be held accountable. If unions do not effectively represent their members, workers can choose to leave and not be penalized. This produces a better service overall for unions, workers and companies.
Right to Work promotes fairness, accountability, and economic freedom. The longer we wait to enact right to work, the further we inhibit job growth in Missouri and keep our state from moving ahead. I implore lawmakers to override Gov. Nixon’s veto of this crucial legislation.