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Study Finds Right-to-Work Laws Depress Average Wages

The West Virginia Legislature passed a right-to-work law shortly after being taken over by the GOP. (Pixabay)
The West Virginia Legislature passed a right-to-work law shortly after being taken over by the GOP. (Pixabay)
July 30, 2018

CHARLESTON, W. Va. — Right-to-work laws do not bring jobs, but in fact reduce wages, according to new research.

Right-to-work laws say that even workers covered by union contracts don't have to pay anything toward the cost of getting and keeping the contract. Supporters argue that states with the laws see job growth because employers are drawn by their business climate.

Former U.S. Labor Department chief economist Heidi Shierholz now is with the Economic Policy Institute. She said they've found the laws don't increase employment - but they do depress pay at the existing jobs.

"What we find is that right-to-work will not create jobs, but it will hurt the wages of middle-class workers,” Shierholz said.

The West Virginia Legislature passed right-to-work legislation in 2017. Although the law has been tied up in court, it has gone into effect, pending a further legal challenge.

Shierholz said it's complicated to compare right-to-work states with those that don't have the laws, because industries, education levels, costs of living and other factors are different. But she said once you take all those factors into account, wages in right-to-work states are still at least 3 percent lower. That means an average full-time worker takes home $1,500 less per year.

Shierholz said in spite of the rhetoric, that's what the laws are made to do.

"The proponents of Right to Work really do try to make it sound like it's gonna be good for workers,” she said. “But it's not about freedom. It is simply to reduce the wages of workers so that corporate profits can increase."

Some union members say they shouldn't be called right-to-work laws. They say a better name might be “right to work for less”. The research can be found on the EPI website: epi.org.

More information from the Economic Policy Institute specific to West Virginia is available here.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV