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Right-to-Work Propaganda Hides One- Percenters’ Grab for Bigger Slice of Our Pie

Last updated on 2014.10.25

The pluto-corporate propaganda mill is in full churn promoting the Michigan GOP's push for new anti-union "right-to-work" laws. Someone sends Pat Powers a slew of correlation-causality-conflating quotes to run on his blog to convince us that everything comes up roses when you pass right-to-work laws.

One of the sources Powers cites is this January 2012 advocacy piece on the economic impact of right-to-work laws from the Center of the American Experiment. The central thesis of the authors is that even though Minnesota has prospered with right-to-work laws in effect, Minnesota would be doing even better if it adopted right-to-work laws like those of its neighbor South Dakota.

PP's argument sounds eerily similar to the fundamental and, of course, untestable economic argument offered by the Obama Administration that the current sluggish economy would have been even worse without the 2009 stimulus. The only difference is that the Obama Administration's claim wins the consensus support of economists, while Powers's blog post is the usual right-wing wishful thinking.

First, note that the Center of the American Experiment is a tentacle (or maybe just a cilium) of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the well-known arm of corporate power waging war on democracy. It has received Koch Brothers money and Koch-Youth interns.

More importantly, the CAE study is a classic example of disguising (not mistaking, because this conservative think tank says what it says very deliberately) correlation for causality. They say that the 22 states with right-to-work laws have enjoyed higher than average economic growth than the states without such laws; they conclude that Minnesota would thus have higher economic growth if it adopted right-to-work laws.

In a similar vein, I point out that South Dakota has recently enjoyed higher than average economic growth. South Dakota also has also recently enjoyed my blogging. I conclude that Minnesota would have higher economic growth if it had me blogging about it.


The most laughable example of the CAE's deliberate correlation-causation confusion is the authors’ conclusion that people move to right-to-work states because of right-to-work policies. “Hey, hon! Pack the wagon, load up the kids; we’re moving to a right-to-work state!” said no one ever... except maybe for an extra in a scene so awful it was deleted from Atlas Shrugged. Most of the right-to-work states are down south and out west. People move there because the weather’s nice and because we've developed air-conditioning. They also go because they find jobs, and we can debate the impact of right-to-work policies on job creation. But right-to-work as direct cause of migration is a stretch.

The CAE study undermines its own claims by noting the following facts:

  1. Minnesota has higher union membership than the U.S. average
  2. For four of the five preceding decades, Minnesota has had higher per capita income growth than the US average.
  3. The table on page 16 shows four variables with a more significant impact on growth than right-to-work policies. The coefficient relating right-to-work to economic growth is also tiny. If you're a policymaker with limited political capital, you work on those other variables before you tinker with labor laws.

If the CAE wants to play the correlation-causation game, it should line up its Figure 2 (page 7) showing the steady decline in union membership with the cotemporaneous wage stagnation that has sandbagged everyone but the top one percent of income earners (and when referring to the one percent, "earners" needs air quotes) even though every worker is more productive. If the CAE's alternative-history claims that Minnesota would have an even better economy if Bill Janklow would have invaded in 1982 and imposed right-to-work laws, then it is at least as logical for me to claim that if Janklow, Rudy Perpich, and every other governor had done more to respect and promote the role of unions in protecting economic justice, and if union membership had kept pace with levels seen back in the 1950s and 1960s, current median household income would be $92,000, not $50,000.

But CAE's claims aren't logical. They are junk science. According to the Economic Policy Institute...

  1. RTW doesn’t boost economic growth. There’s no relationship between RTW laws and a state’s unemployment rate, per capita income, or job growth.
  2. RTW has no significant impact on attracting employers to a state. Surveys show RTW as a minor or non-existent factor for employers when they’re considering locations.
  3. RTW lowers wages. Both union and nonunion workers earn an average of $1,500 less per year in RTW states.
  4. RTW threatens employment benefits. Workers—both union and nonunion—are less likely to have either health insurance or pensions through their jobs in RTW states [Gordon Lafer, "Don't Be Fooled, Michigan: 'Right to Work' Is Just Plain Wrong," EPI: Working Economics, 2012.12.07].

According to the Minnesota AFL-CIO, right-to-work states also spend less on education and have higher workplace fatality rates.

Don't let Pat Powers or the CAE fool you with junk science. Right-to-work laws are not about improving the economy. They are about weakening unions and making it easier for the one percent to hoard more of the wealth that we generate for them.


  1. Taunia 2012.12.09

    I don't understand why the union-busting continues, especially after Wisconsin. Why isn't labor organizing labor?

    Michigan Gov's office kept labor on the ropes for two weeks, saying they could come to an agreement then rushed that legislation through the MI House while labor was down the hallway. In a Republican-filled state legislature, labor has to start buying into Republicans to still be part of the game. MI labor didn't have a clue they were going to get played?

    26 states now have RTW. Looking at the prefiled bills for MO, I'll be surprised if MO doesn't fall this year too. WI and MI started the house of cards. AFLCIO, SEIU, AFSCME, et al have targed McCaskill to remind her they helped get her re-elected and they want her vote to avoid sequestration. But I don't see a lot of labor hitting the ground in-state MO, other than watching ethics filings and blowing a gasket every time labor hands a Republican $5K, 10K, etc. I understand AFSCME gave $40K to MO House Speaker, 2012, to keep RTW off the floor; ethics reports show pretty much that amount.

    I'm pretty sure the new tea partier MO House Speaker has a union busting agenda that probably cannot be deterred with $$. We'll see.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.12.09

    Taunia, what would happen if unions in RTW states said, "O.K., we are negotiating contracts only for our members. Non-union members, you have to negotiate your own contracts one-on-one with management"?

  3. Taunia 2012.12.09

    I believe that's illegal under NLRB. It's all or nothing and an individual cannot negotiate a separate contract when unions are present. Besides, negotiating separate contracts for all employees would probably cause another industry, cost a lot of money and undermine the profits.

    Non-union members benefit from unions. If you don't pay union membership in a union shop, you're still going to get the benefit of a 40 hour work-week, worker's comp, etc.

    If separate contract negotiations were legal, I suspect having two sets of contracts in one shop- one by union and one without union - would cause union membership to explode. Watching someone with a union contract work 40 hours/week while you without a union contract works 60 hours would be tough to watch. Vacation pay, safety standards, other benefits, too.

  4. HelpThe99ers 2012.12.09

    If you do the math, you'll see that adopting "right to work" laws will cost about $6 billion in lost middle-class wages annually: roughly four million workers times $1,500 per worker.

    That's $6 billion padding the already record-setting corporate coffers, instead of going to folks who worked for that salary, and need it to pay for things like housing, heating, and food.

    When is enough, enough?

  5. Taunia 2012.12.09

    Even Republicans will tell you the end goal - the only goal - is defunding unions, and in turn, Democrats. Middle class families are expendable casualties.

  6. Jenny 2012.12.09

    Growing up in South Dakota, you're taught that unions are the absolute worst possible organization you could belong to. I come to MN ten years ago, and it's almost culture shock when it comes to unions. The majority of Union workers here don't complain at all about their membership dues, and they proudly wear their Union caps, jackets and stickers. A symbol of pride for them. Such a difference in states. South Dakotans needs to step out of their ignorance. I haven't see the mafia here in MN yet.

  7. Jana 2012.12.09

    South Dakota under Republican leadership seems to be not just anti-union, but anti-worker. To the point of promoting business at the expense of good wages.

    Look at the tax payer money we spend bringing in new business and then look at the hourly wages those businesses pay.

    Hardback jobs are paying less and less. Skilled labor is paying less and to rub salt into the wound, we are giving tax payer $ to help companies recruit those lower paying skilled jobs.

    Cuts to education and increasing tuition could almost be seen as feeding this pipeline of our advertised cheap labor to attract out of state companies that then export their profits back to their home state.

    Work two part-time jobs that don't provide health insurance and the Governor thinks your lazy because you can't afford the $1200 per month to insure your family. (Note to governor...that 30 hours a week that the part-timer is working at one job would not be enough to cover the health premium.)

    Note to Ben Nesselhuf...put a repeal of the RTW law in SD on the ballot and run our candidates as the ones for the average worker/voter. We need to have the discussion on taking our low wage reputation to task and we would attract national support in fighting for the working family.

    At the same time we would have the chance to point out the hypocrisy and cronyism of the GOP. We could re-frame economic development as selective wealth development with our tax payer funds...or maybe bottom up economic development.

    Think of what higher pay for all would do to consumer confidence and purchasing power. That's a rising tide that would raise all boats.

  8. Owen Reitzel 2012.12.09

    Good post Jana. Not only do we give these companies money to come here they then pick up and leave. In my case India.
    RTW is nothing but crap.

  9. Taunia 2012.12.09

    South Dakota had the second highest increase in public sector union membership between 2000-2010. North Dakota had the biggest increase during that time. It looks like SD has overall union membership at about 5%.

    Southern states have the weakest unions, led by South Carolina with 3.2% union membership.

  10. grudznick 2012.12.09

    That's an interesting graph, Ms. Taunia. I wonder if that's one person joining the four person state government employee shovel-leaning union, 5 people joining the 20 person county official 3-hour-lunch union, or 5,000 people joining the 20,000 person teacher-whining union.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.12.09

    Grudz, there are about 9,000 K-12 teachers in South Dakota. Your insult to public employees is as offensive as your detachment from facts and figures.

  12. grudznick 2012.12.09

    I'm seeing a 25% increase in public employee union members. There are no scales or basis on the graph. For all I know, that entire bar is represented by you joining the Spearfish French Teacher union.

    I have no other basis. The graph seems detached from facts and figures, so I call BS. "BS" I call, and I point at the graph.

  13. Taunia 2012.12.09

    Is grudznick a parody account? I don't get the feined aloofness.

  14. grudznick 2012.12.09

    I'm not a loof Taunia, I just don't care for it when young french teachers tell me I'm detached from facts when I'm making fun of a graph that only has percentages on it.

    I wasn't taking issue with you, ma'am. But the graph alone with no context is exactly the kind of thing that Mr. H. would score poorly in a debator contest so he should not be so a loof at me here.

    I'm just sayin...

  15. grudznick 2012.12.09

    I am learning to make graphs. I will want to post some here. You will like them.

  16. Les 2012.12.10

    Nice Minnesota story Jenny, sounds like a happy ending in the making.
    Two very different states, though similar in land mass, the similarities end there with 66 people/square mile compared to 10/sqmile here.
    It takes bodies to make a comparison and money, and we don't have them.
    RTW never hurt an employee in my world and it certainly was no impetus to squeeze the life out of their wages. I like most small biz owners want our employees to make as much as possible with the numbers competition allows.
    Beyond that point we absorb until employee reduction is forced upon us.

    Back to Jenny in Mn, I worked at KSTP TV Minn/St Paul in the 70's. The station was a large brick building with no windows and a secure parking area in back for all employees. The unions had tried to break Stanley Hubbard in the early 60's shooting out the windows and generally attacking employees in every manner thinkable. It wasn't because they were under paid as with our free parking and no union dues we were above union scale. I've never worked for a better company.
    In 1975 I left all that intelligence and union scale money to come home to poverty for close to ten years as my biz grew. Some of us prefer SD and the small number of bodies available to support our economy.

    Don't just assume we don't want to see better wages and living standards for all, but there are very real limits to a rural economy. I'll take my SD investments over your union retirement that won't buy groceries in ten years.

  17. Les 2012.12.10

    Btw Jenny, if ya haven't seen the mafia in mpls/st paul, try any number of things like, starting your own cab company or maybe it's the garbage biz. You'll see them, on each end of the alley you just entered.
    Hundreds of opportunities.

  18. Jenny 2012.12.10

    Well Les, I'd rather be destitute in a more caring, progressive state like MN than in South Dakota.

  19. Les 2012.12.10

    Good for you Jenny, on that we both agree!
    I would like to send those who see SD as a favorable place to join and ride our system on over as well Jenny. You have the room!
    I think it is the beer. I've lived in Minnesota and they love their beer. That beer lowering inhibitions, helps them elect folks like, the dentist Governor Goofy Perpich, the wrestler Ventura, the clown Franken among others proving a small amount of character can be extracted from almost anyone. It looks like they sobered up and elected Michelle Bachmann ;-)
    I will forever remain loyal to Hubert who sat across the lunch table from this rebellious 22 year old and treated me as an equal. He was a kind servant of the people.

  20. larry kurtz 2012.12.10

    If Al Franken is a clown, John Thune is a breeder.

  21. Bree S. 2012.12.10

    The Unions served a purpose when they first came about. Back when they first got started, the unions helped people who didn't have the resources to defend themselves. Now they feed off those same people without returning much value for the dollar that goes in. If it was me, I would leave the Union because I think they've served their purpose and their time. Other people might want to try to clean them up and reform them from the inside, and that's their business. But leaving them the way they are, and continuing to feed something that returns nothing, isn't the answer.

  22. larry kurtz 2012.12.10

    Opinions are like recta: everybody has one.

  23. Bree S. 2012.12.10

    The eagle is also the dove, Larry. You and I and our opinions are more similar than you think.

  24. Bree S. 2012.12.10

    Larry, all of those workers are still able to join the Union. And if all of them still want to join up I'm fine with that. Right to Work says that people can't be forced to join against their will. The free will of the peoples, all the peoples, should be defended against infringement - even if that infringement sounds like a good idea. We are all not going to agree, and we shouldn't be forced to. Especially not by an international organization that wants to swallow all the nations.

  25. Taunia 2012.12.10

    It not private industry that's educating future employees. It's not your tax dollars either. It's unions that are spending millions of dollars to strengthen the workforce and everyone benefits.

    Union Naysayers: You're more than welcome to refund to the unions every last penny you got for vacation pay, unemployment benefits, pension plans and every other benefit the unions fought for and secured.

    You won't.

  26. Bree S. 2012.12.10

    If the Union wants to keep its members it should serve them, rather than the crows at the top. The Teachers Union in South Dakota is a good example of what is wrong with Unions today.

    If members are allowed to leave, I bet the Unions clean up their act. Competition with the private industry will keep corruption in check.

  27. Jenny 2012.12.10

    We may have our colorful politicians in MN, but it is South Dakota that ranks as one of the highest in state government corruption, according to a Corey Heidelberger article a few months back.

  28. Bree S. 2012.12.10

    We do have problems with corruption here Jenny, you are right. We need to return to a strong two-party system in South Dakota. I am Republican, but I believe the voice of Democrats is important to the process of good governance.

  29. Les 2012.12.10

    You sure have a taste for someone's @$$ in SD Jenny. Corruption has no boundaries and all states have more than their fair share.
    You appear to either be a teacher or a civil servant cut from SD, I can understand a little angst over being forced to become a minnesota round head.
    Note, I've already stated I love my minnesota pals and could give a whit how they run their state.
    You want to change SD, move back and get involved.

  30. larry kurtz 2012.12.10

    Aberdeen American editorial board: "From a purely financial point of view, our prison system is costing taxpayers far too much money. And we’re not talking just the cost of housing and supervising inmates. There are the hidden costs associated with imprisonment. If the inmate was a family breadwinner, loss of that income could press the family into public welfare."

  31. Les 2012.12.10

    It's a prison industry in SD, not a system 'Lar'. Big difference. Ya has to grow an industry to keep it relevant.

  32. larry kurtz 2012.12.10

    Your self-immolation in front of the Capitol in Pierre would raise awareness of the difference, earth hater.

  33. Bree S. 2012.12.10

    What kind of mother loves a few of her children and hates the rest?

  34. Les 2012.12.10

    Thanks for spreadin the luv wasichu.

  35. Bree S. 2012.12.10

    Les has a strong heart which has not been eaten by hatred.

  36. grudznick 2012.12.10

    My heart has been eaten by hatred and is not as strong as it once was, but Larry I have similar recta in some respects.

  37. Jana 2012.12.10

    And the President weighs in on RTW laws.

    WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama weighed in on the contentious labor battle playing out in Michigan, condemning the Republican push to make Michigan a so-called "right-to-work" state as nothing more than a partisan maneuver that will hurt the working class..."The so-called 'right-to-work' laws -- they don't have to do with economics, they have everything to do with politics. What they're really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money."

  38. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.12.10

    Bree, what's this business about unions serving a purpose when they first came about... but not now? How do workers now have any more resources to defend themselves against corporate bosses than they did when unions started? How is the advantage of strength in numbers any less useful now for workers?

    And Bree, you say the SD teachers union exemplifies what's wrong with unions. You say that if members were allowed to leave the union, that would force the union to shape up. But in right-to-work South Dakota, workers are free to leave the union, or never join. How has that "shaped up" the SDEA?

  39. Bree S. 2012.12.10

    That's why I'd just leave the Unions if it was me personally Cory. I have my doubts that they can be reformed at all, your point about the corruption in SDEA despite right-to-work well taken. I wouldn't tell anybody else they couldn't give it a go at reforming them I just think it will be a lot of work. Which is why anyone who doesn't want to try should be able to leave. You're right, I don't think the Unions will clean up their act that quickly, I was being too optimistic.

  40. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.12.10

    Whoa, whoa, whoa: I'm not making a point about corruption in the SDEA. The beef that has kept me out of SDEA has been that it doesn't have the power to do any real good (although its successful referral of HB1234 rejiggers my calculus).

    I'm investigating the consistency of your claim. Above at 12:24, you say SDEA exemplifies the problems of unions, and you claim that allowing workers to leave the union ought to clean them up. Workers, including SDEA members, can join or leave at will, yet apparently in your eyes SDEA still exemplifies the ills of unions. So is right-to-work really about making unions better?

  41. Bree S. 2012.12.10

    My main argument for right to work is that people shouldn't be forced against their will to join the Union. See 11:54. I am now agreeing with you that right-to-work wouldn't be enough to naturally clean up the corruption in the unions, since you bring up the fact that the SDEA hasn't "shaped up" - which for me means it still suffers from corruption and is serving the people at the top and not the teachers.

  42. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.12.10

    No, I did not say SDEA hasn't "shaped up." That's the consistent conclusion from your statement that SDEA exemplifies the ills of unions. The only ill in the SDEA that I acknowledge here is their relative weakness in South Dakota.

    Now, what corruption?

  43. Jana 2012.12.10

    When you think about it, Chambers of Commerce and trade organizations like Big Pharma are like unions, only more powerful. The only difference is they are not bargaining collectively with an owner, they bargain with the government...or more accurately buy or threaten to use thuggish force to get what they want.

    But bargaining collectively...they are very good at that.

  44. Donald Pay 2012.12.10

    People seem to believe a lot of the corporate propaganda out there, and Bree seems particuarly gullible or ignorant on this subject. Let's state the truth: In states without right to work for less laws employees can't be forced to join a union. No one can force anyone to join any union in any state, whether they have so-called "right to work" laws or not.

    "Right to work" is one of those righty catch phrases, like "death tax," that is essentially a lie.

    Here's the reality. If your co-workers vote to have a union represent them in negotiations with management at a company, most employees will probably join the union, but there is no requirement for every employee to do so. Unions collect dues from members, which include the costs of negotiation, costs of assuring any contract is carried out and a portion for political donations and charity work.

    Any employee not in the union but covered under the bargaining unit's contract will still receive the benefits negotiated by the union. While the non-union member doesn't have to pay for political or charity work, they are required to pay for their share of the costs to the union to negotiate and enforce the contracted benefits that the employee receives. These are not union dues, and you do not have to join the union to receive the benefits that the union is able to negotiate.

  45. Jana 2012.12.10

    Just so no one gets the wrong idea, my point was that collective know, strength in numbers... goes both ways and it isn't always bad. They all have the capability of doing good things, but their main goal is to look out for their members best interests. That's why people pay dues to belong. Right?

  46. Bill Fleming 2012.12.11

    I wonder what a Michigan general strike would look like?

  47. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.12.11

    I wonder, Bill: could a general strike in Michigan trigger a recession? Maybe it would be safer to focus on referring the right-to-work law? (Michigan labor's success this year on referenda was mixed.)

  48. Bill Fleming 2012.12.11

    Safer for who Cory? Michigan is a mess. Who knows maybe they do both.

  49. Bill Fleming 2012.12.11

    Kurtz, you mean it's all because of those ALEC Koch-suckers?

  50. larry kurtz 2012.12.11

    Good morning Bill, South Dakota.

  51. Bree S. 2012.12.11

    Any organization can be a problem if the wrong people make it to the top Jana, including the Chambers of Commerce.

    I'm pretty ambivalent about ALEC myself Larry. Of course I agree with quite a bit of the legislation that comes out of it, but I wonder how much longer it lasts before it gets completely bought out by Big Business.

    Of course, I'm pretty sure the underground Alinsky followers trying to take over my party are a much bigger problem than anything Koch-funded. The Kochs are just a couple of libertarians with some cash promoting freedom for all. And they have good reason to be concerned about the nonsense going on these days.

    And I couldn't find any solid info to back up this claim that ALEC is mostly funded by the Kochs anyway. I have a feeling there's some smoke and mirrors going on here. I doubt that they're the only big donors.

  52. larry kurtz 2012.12.11

    Michigan pigs tear gas protesters and force people with cameras from Romney building.

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