In his weekend column, liberal Denver Post editorialist Bob Ewegen carried the water for Big Labor leaders who are working to undermine Colorado’s Right-to-Work initiative. Once you move past his weak attempt at irony, you find problems with the facts he chose to use to make his case:
If you’re lucky enough to find a job at all, the only right the Coors plan gives you is the right to work for less. Quite a bit less, actually. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that an average worker in the 22 states with right-to-work laws earns about $7,131 a year less than workers in free bargaining states ($30,656 versus $37,787). Nationwide, union members earn $9,308 a year more than non-union workers, $41,652 versus $32,344.
These facts aren’t in dispute. To be fair, however, there is considerable controversy among labor economists about whether right-to-work laws cause low wages or whether economic backwaters are more likely to pass anti-union laws. Probably, the truth is a mixture of both.
Right-to-work states have a poverty rate of 13.5 percent, compared with 12.2 percent in free bargaining states. The infant mortality rate is 7.94 percent higher and the uninsured population rate is 15 percent higher on average in right-to-work states. And they spend $1,680 less per pupil in elementary and secondary school.
Well, Bob Ewegen’s recitation overlooks some key points, among them:
- When you take into consideration the important factor of cost-of-living, weekly earnings and disposable after-tax income are both higher in Right-to-Work states.
- Even more telling than comparisons of static earnings are rates of growth. In both job growth and in overall economic growth, Right-to-Work states have performed better.
- Poverty rates also do not take into account cost of living, which on average is considerably lower in Right-to-Work states. Where the cost of living is lower, the poverty threshold represents a higher standard of living. Therefore, Ewegen’s apples-to-oranges comparison does not tell us very much.
- The infant mortality statistics provide a distortion that fails to take into account differences among races. There are more African-Americans – who unfortunately have a higher rate of infant mortality – in Right-to-Work states. African-Americans in Right-to-Work states actually have a slightly lower infant mortality rate.
If union leaders were interested in showing what a difference their services really make, they could choose to enact members-only representation. Only workers who chose to be members could be represented by the union contract. But they don’t, opting for monopoly bargaining power instead. In this light, Bob Ewegen’s rhetorical jab of Right-to-Work as a “union-busting scheme” makes less sense than a “union-leader-coercion-busting scheme.”
One other semantic note: Bob Ewegen uses the euphemism “free bargaining” to describe states where workers can be compelled to pay union fees. But in all states, unions are “free” to bargain in the private sector. No worker who wishes to join a union can be forbidden to join. The only difference with the so-called “free bargaining” states is that union leaders and business owners are “free” to negotiate coercive union fees on all workers, whether they choose to join or not.
Bob Ewegen’s facts simply don’t tell the whole story.
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