Should Ohioans be compelled to join a union as a condition of their employment? Should workers be forced to watch hard-earned dollars removed from their paychecks to back causes and political candidates they do not support, with little hope of ever getting that money back?
Should Ohio remain stuck with a 20th century mind-set in a 21st century economy? A right-to-work law in Ohio would resolve all of these questions.
Right-to-work would assure Ohio workers that they have the right to say yes to joining a union — but also the freedom to say no. They don’t have that choice today. Once a business or government agency is unionized, workers can’t opt out of union membership without paying “agency fees” or navigating other roadblocks.
A right-to-work law would allow workers the freedom to refuse to have their pay used to support causes they find objectionable — something that happens more than many Ohioans realize.
An Ohio teacher who is Catholic applied for an exemption from an agency fee, arguing that paying the fee would require her to support the union’s position on abortion, with which she disagreed. She sought instead to donate her fee to a charity that helps children.
The union denied the application; a union official told her she would have to change her religion to qualify for an exemption. She had to go through litigation to ensure that her money was not spent to promote causes that conflicted with her deeply held beliefs.
The economic rationale for right-to-work is equally persuasive. Between 1990 and 2000, the rate of private-sector job growth in right-to-work states was more than 30 percent, compared to just 16 percent in those states — such as Ohio — that had compulsory unionization.
Even during the next decade, when the tech bubble burst and the Great Recession hit, right-to-work states gained private-sector jobs. Forced-union states lost more than 5 percent of their private-sector jobs.
Between 2000 and 2010, Ohio lost nearly 620,000 private-sector jobs; only Michigan had a more massive loss. Even during the boom times of the 1990s, Ohio’s private-sector job growth ranked just 38th among states.
Michigan and Indiana now are right-to-work states, reaping the benefits that other states have enjoyed for decades. Ohio is in no position to be left behind.
Job growth is not the only benefit associated with right-to-work. Ohio University economist Richard Vedder estimates that if Ohio had become a right-to-work state in 1977, average personal income for a family of four would have been about $12,000 higher each year since then. Other research confirms that income grows faster in right-to-work states.
Some studies suggest that incomes are lower in right-to-work states, but they fail to mention that such states had lower salaries before they embraced right-to-work. The fact remains that right-to-work correlates with faster salary growth and more jobs.
Given these realities, workers are voting with their feet. Forced-union states had a net out-migration of nearly 5 million residents between 2000 and 2009. During that period, the same number of people moved to right-to-work states.
Ohioans should be able to choose whether they want to join a union. They should choose which causes and candidates to support with their earnings.
Ohio would be well served to embrace polices that encourage job creation and wage growth. Like Michigan and Indiana, Ohio should give its workers the right to work.
Greg R. Lawson is statehouse liaison and policy analyst for the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a free-market research organization in Columbus.
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