Digging Deeper: By Dan Heyman
Charleston, WV – What impact will West Virginia’s Right-to-Work laws have on the state’s employment and wages? That’s an inside economics debate that’s likely to show up in this falls election.
The laws say that even workers covered by union contracts don’t have to pay anything towards the cost of getting and keeping those contract. Supporters – such as Senate President Mitch Carmichael – credit RTW with continuing “to spur economic growth and entice more companies to move to the state, fueling the #WVcomeback!” (a hashtag Republicans are running on this fall).
Did you know? Under @WVGOP leadership, #WestVirginia became the 26th right to work state in 2016, sending a clear signal that our state is open for business. This law will continue to spur economic growth and entice more companies to move to the state, fueling the #WVcomeback!— Mitch Carmichael (@SenCarmichaelWV) August 2, 2018
Critics argue the state is largely benefiting from a national economic recovery that began ten years ago. The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy sites a forecast they describe as saying that “after several years of struggling economically compared to the rest of the country, West Virginia is beginning to slowly rebound, but will continue to trail the rest of the country.”
Now, new evidence is finding the law is likely to have little or no impact on job growth, and will in fact depress wages.
After Republicans took over the state legislature, one of the first steps the GOP-led law makers passed RTW legislation in 2016, going back the next year to address a legal challenge to the law brought by unions. Ultimately, the amended legislation was put into effect by the state Supreme Court last September, although how broadly it will be applied is under challenge.
Now, new research from EPI has found that RTW laws do not bring jobs – and in fact reduce wages.
Study author Heidi Shierholz is director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute and former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor. She says, “what we find is that right-to-work will not create jobs, but it will hurt the wages of middle class workers.”
Shierholz says it’s complicated to compare right-to-work states with those which don’t have the laws – because industries, education levels, costs of living and other factors are different. But she says once you take all those things into account, wages in right-to-work states are still at least 3 percent lower. Which means an average full-time worker takes home fifteen hundred dollars a year less. Shierholz says 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. But it’s not about freedom. It is simply to reduce the wages of workers so that corporate profits can increase.”
Dan Heyman has been covering West Virginia politics and policy for more than two decades. He likes dogs but has trouble keeping kudzu from swallowing everything he owns. For more of Dan's WV Strong content, click here.