In West Virginia Right-to-Work Debate, Unions Re-Use Scare Story Script
But data disproves same scary predictions in other states
A labor union campaign against making West Virginia a right-to-work state is centered on scare tactics voters in Michigan would recognize.
With help from International Union of Operating Engineers Local 132, the West Virginia AFL-CIO is warning of lower wages, reduced benefits, and more dangerous working conditions if the state adopts right-to-work.
IUOE Local 132’s Stop WV Paycuts website asks visitors to contact their state legislators with those three reasons for opposing right-to-work.
Unions made the same arguments before Michigan enacted right-to-work several years ago.
“In states with RTW laws on the books, wages are lower, benefits are fewer, and workplace injuries and fatalities are more common,” AFL-CIO’s Working America warned in November 2012.
Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that Michigan’s rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses was lower in 2013 than in 2012, and lower still in 2014. Compared to 2012, Michigan had two fewer fatal occupational injuries in 2013 and one more fatal occupational injury in 2014.
Right-to-work laws like the one proposed in West Virginia Senate Bill 1 give employees in unionized workplaces the ability to choose whether to pay a union without fear of losing their jobs. Right-to-work does not stop workers from joining unions, organizing unions, or collectively bargaining with employers over pay, benefits or working conditions.
“Right-To-Work laws lead to lower wages, less benefits and decreased work-place safety,” Stop WV Paycuts asserts in an online form letter meant for state lawmakers. The same claims are repeated elsewhere on the site. Under a graphic of a skull and crossbones is the warning, "RTW laws are intended to lower wages and benefits and decrease workplace safety."
The website appears to be based on a graphic the West Virginia AFL-CIO adapted from campaign materials the national AFL-CIO has been using with mixed results for several years. In addition to Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin have both passed right-to-work since 2011. Unions successfully blocked a Missouri right-to-work bill in 2015.
IUOE Local 132 did not respond to a voice mail request for comment.
A recent West Virginia AFL-CIO radio ad hammering right-to-work focused on the point of workplace safety, suggesting right-to-work should instead be called “right to die on the job.”
West Virginia has a higher rate of workplace deaths than 23 of America’s 25 right-to-work states, according to AFL-CIO’s own Death on the Job report. The risk of workplace injury or death is much greater in states where industries such as forestry, agriculture, and mining are more prevalent.
Trey Kovacs, a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said CEI research shows “a significant and positive relationship between economic growth in a state and the presence of a right to work law.”
“In West Virginia, workers lost an estimated $2,623 from not having a right to work law,” Kovacs said.
Calling the union website an attempt to put a new spin on “old, tired rhetoric,” Kovacs added, “It is only a matter of time before a majority of states protect workers from being forced to pay dues to a union they do not support.”
Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.