Michigan has joined Florida as a Right to Work state, which experts say weakens unions and cuts wages for workers. (Photo by Joshua Eller.)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

This week, Michigan became the country’s 24th Right to Work state, which has prompted close examinations of what such laws mean for a state’s economy. Florida was already one of the 23 Right to Work states. Studies published in the last few weeks have documented how Right to Work laws in states including Florida have cost unions influence and workers higher wages.

The Washington Post’s WonkBlog compiled a group of these reports that shows how Right to Work laws affect an economy like Florida’s.

According to the Post, when a state becomes Right to Work:

1) Unions Get Weaker

In Florida, unions don’t have the same power they do in other states. Experts have said this is mostly because the unions can’t force workers to pay union dues. According to the Post:

This is one thing the left and right agree on. If unions are barred from requiring employees to pay the cost of representation, there’s a free-rider problem. Why bother sending money to my union if I’ll benefit from its bargaining efforts regardless? Pretty soon, unions are drained of funds and can’t launch as many organizing drives or wield influence.

And unions do get weakened. A 1998 survey of the econometric literature by William J. Moore found that right-to-work laws lead to more free-riding behavior among employees. That, in turn, leads to a decline in unionization drives, in organizing successes, and ultimately in overall union density. Recently, Idaho and Oklahoma saw their union densities drop after adopting right-to-work laws in the early 2000s.

2) Workers Lose Out On Economic Growth

Conservatives have long argued that Right to Work states are more likely to attract business than states with pro-labor laws. However, liberals have long argued that the net result of such laws is that workers in these states make considerably less money than their counterparts in states with laws more favorable to labor unions.

Well, the Post reports that both could be true, which means that if there is economic growth in a state, workers will benefit from that growth less than states without such laws.

One careful study conducted by Hofstra’s Lonnie Stevans in 2007 found that right-to-work laws do help boost the number of businesses in a state — but the gains mostly went to owners, while average wages went down. ”Although right-to-work states may be more attractive to business,” Stevans concludes, “this does not necessarily translate into enhanced economic verve in the right-to-work state if there is little ‘trickle-down’ from business owners to the non-unionized workers.”

So business owners gain, and workers lose. One possible retort is that these states could simply set up new safety-net programs to compensate workers who are hurt. But that leads to another question: Without strong unions in place, who will push for these policies?

Florida’s economy has been slowly improving of late. However, recent reports show signs of persistent underemployment. In short, there are more jobs in the state — but most people filling these jobs receive too few hours and/or make too little money per hour to make ends meet.



25 Responses

  1. Dan

    Of course lower wages also keep the cost of living down. Artificially increasing wages only increases the cost of living, making higher wages necessary for survival. There is also the argument that businesses that overpay their employees face eventual collapse. I think right to work is a good idea overall.

  2. Glenn R

    disagree with the esteemed commenter “Dan” and not sure if the term artificial has any meaning here. aren’t the cost of goods “artificially” inflated if the cost more than all the overhead needed to produce them?

  3. SteveX

    It’s simple, Glenn:

    Rich people making more money = natural inflation
    Working people making more money = artificial inflation

    Giving more money to the rich just spurs them to greater heights of innovation, giving us all more money, which is still “natural inflation”, while giving more money to anyone else causes business to “collapse” and produces “artificial inflation”. That’s what’s so great about union-busting (err, I mean “right to work”) laws.

    So if we just keep reducing wages until people have to work three jobs to survive and granting more and more benefits to the rich, and we’ll have a perfect economy! Paradise for everyone! Everyone rich, that is.

  4. dana anderson

    Let’s not the forget blackmail and violence these union people use on others not of thier ilk. Union dues go to Democrats as a payback for things such as the G.M. bailout, it’s just a scam.

  5. Dan

    Artificial increases mean increases not caused by market forces of supply and demand. For example when the minimum wage forces an employer to pay more for an employee than that employee is actually worth to the company, the employer is forced to increase the cost of products to pay for that wage or choose not to hire the employee. If a union collective bargain forces an employer to pay wages and benifits that exceed the profits made by the company they have to raise the cost of their product to stay solvent. Unfortunately, their products then can not compete with products from overseas, or from non-union shops and consumers will opt for the cheaper products.
    Of course in fantasy land, the owner of the company just decides to reduce his own paycheck and the paychecks of all the “evil” overpaid managers so that he doesn’t have to raise prices. But in reality the comany goes bankrupt like Hostess and everyone loses their jobs.

  6. Erik

    The GM bailout was pushed through by Bush, Dana. If there’s a scam it’s a GOP one–but really that’s about money, which infects both parties and has nothing to do with the Democrats.

    Did you ever stop to think that if ANY policy the GOP put forward was good for workers, unions would support that party as well?

  7. Bill Payne

    As a Floridian who lives in job depressed Ohio, I have a clear perspective. This report assumes that the poor economy and job situation in Florida is the result of its labor orientation. In fact, Florida has always been a right to work state. Furthermore, its labor market reflects the poor economy over which Obama presides. Fact, bloated union benefits have made unionized states loose jobs and have caused companies to relocate so they can survive. Unions only benefit those who belong to the union. For everyone else, unions raise the cost of goods and depressed the larger economic market. Additionally, freedom of association means that people should not have to give money to an organize to which they do not want to associate, especially if it is a political ally with a party that one does not support. Don’t make me attend your church or belong to your union in order to work.

  8. Dan

    In fantasy land there is plenty money going around to pay everyone 50K a year and everyone can afford a house, and a car, etc. If only the evil rich people would just spare a few dollars so that everyone can be happy. In reality money is traded for sevices or goods of equal value. A floor sweeper gets paid less than a welder. A plumber gets paid more than a grocery bagger. You are paid relative to your job’s economic benefit to society. This system is not designed or run by rich people, this is a natural system that evolves out of the free market. Not everyone can be rich. I’m certainly not, but I am happy to live in a relatively fair system.

  9. Rob in Chicago

    The 10 poorest states are all Right-to-Work States, and all are Red States. Can’t see how this is a good thing.

  10. Tom Mariner

    I believe both above statements — and I am a conservative business guy. Some of the unions I know have very talented and honest presidents, both nationally and in the locals. And they do a great job of making sure the best talents are doing a superb job every day — the quickest way to never get called out on a gig from a hiring hall is to exhibit rotten skills or disrupt your workplace.

    Of course owners want lowest cost and total control, but over the past generation, that has gotten non-union workers zero pensions and no healthcare insurance coupled with the least taken vacation on the planet outside of a political “reeducation” camp. The US is unique in the world in requiring NO paid leave!

    Yes unions got a bad rep because of strong-arm tactics, and the absolutely stupid move of aligning themselves with a single political party — Even now with that party in power, the President does nothing for them — after they helped him get elected!!!!

    The Republicans are butt stupid by attacking unions but forced into the position because of the union leader’s position as solid Democrat campaign workers. Workers — are you happy seeing public service union members retiring with a living wage, paid for by your present taxes? Instead of getting jealous, organize a union — it doesn’t have to be affiliated with the present guys, but will still receive the protection of law.

  11. Dan

    Gelnn R:
    Prices do not always necessarily reflect only the cost to produce. there is also a profit margin involved. That profit is usually determined by the current demand for a product. If people want something bad enough they will pay much more for it than it costs to make it. Eventually someone else will also make that product so that they can join in the profit. People will choose the better priced option, and eventually the cost will continue to come down as competition increases. If the market becomes flooded with manufacturers, the price will eventually fall so low that there is no longer any incentive for the manufacturers to make the product becuse the profit margins are too low. Employee wages are all affected by these market forces since their wages are all part of the cost to manufacture. When the Union forces a company to pay a certain wage regardless of current market conditions, the company cannot adapt to change, and many go bankrupt or have to fire workers. Many also move overseas where there is no union.

  12. Thomas Brennan

    The Union members voluntarily pay dues. When the Union brings new people into the membership, these people contribute dues willingly. Any member can refuse to pay any Political Action contribution, if they don’t support the stated goals of fundraising. This Prevailing Wage Law allows contractors to bid on Federal and State contracts at less per hour than the Prevailing Union wage. Giving that non-union contractor an unfair advantage. If the union contractor wins he is required to pay full wages and benefits of a living wage that is negotiated between each union and trade classification, such as electricians and plumbers. If non union wins they can pay all there workers minimum wage if they so desire. I am against Prevailing Wage Laws, I believe union and non union should be on an even playing field. The strength and superiority of the union contractors and workers will shine through the lies and deception of Prevailing Wage laws. Without unions the workers have no one to represent them at the bargaining table.

  13. Vadertime

    I recently read an article about the “Lost Generation of Workers”. It would appear that in the long-term, the Unions will become less influential as a result of technology. Unions, back in the dawn of the industrial age, were a means of guaranteeing people with little to no skills a living wage. This became very prevalent in the auto industry and other industries where the assembly line process was the core of the manufacturing sector. A lot of these jobs were replaced by robots and computerized automation.

    Very recently, a company formulated by a former MIT robotics professor introduced a learning robot, which learns by mimicing human motions. This company plans to sell these robots for a rock-bottom price of 30K dollars, which translated to a year’s salary for a middle-class wage earner on the bottom end of the middle class wage scale. This will wholesale displace a large number of workers over the next many years.

    It’s just a matter of time before jobs of unskilled and low skilled workers disappear. The unions, unfortunately will continue to decline in influence and in their ability to protect these workers. It’s just how industry and technology are advancing. Ironically, manufacturiing may come back to the United State, but it may not create many more jobs and the jobs it does create will require highly skilled technicians to run those automated factories.

  14. matt

    Agree 100% with Dan. I had to move from my hometown in Michigan to Indiana due to the unions in Michigan falsely inflating the economy and eventually creating a state with no jobs in my field. I would love nothing more than to live back in such a beautiful state but when cost of living here is so much lower and jobs are a plenty, I don’t really get to make that choice. Maybe this change in Michigan will eventually cause companies that moved out to move back in, however I am not holding my breath.

  15. Mike

    Problem with idea that wages should be left to the whim of free market is that we now live in a global economy. So our wages, if left to those devices, would have to compete with those in India and Pakistan and Vietnam and China. Not sure I would like to live with the salaries they live with.

    And for those who believe in the magnanimity of corporations, please go back and read American history around 1900 for a reality check.

  16. Bob in Florida

    Rob in chicago. And the tens states and the mahor cities in the that are on the verge of bankruptcy are all union states. They also have the highest taxes.

    Also, what good is having higher wages if you just ahve to turn over the difference to the union? What have you gained. The workers are just a bunch of shlubs who genrate revenue to the union bosses who live in big mansions and make millionsof dollars, just like the rich people they deride. The unions are a big business, just like GM or any other large comany. The diofference is , that you work your butt off for company A and the union lives off of yoru back.

    I guess you would rather live in a union state and have no job then in a right-to-work state and be able to feed your family. But, being from Chicago, youare probalby on the Democrat dole.

  17. Dee Andrews

    Mike’s argument that the “global economy” will have to compete with India is cr*p. There are many foreign car companies in U.S.
    with plants in right to work states. Those workers earn a pretty
    good hourly wage, not the bloated wages of union workers. Unions
    drive up the prices of cars that the other 86% of Americans have
    to pay. Why should 14% of the population receive preferential
    pay, not to mention the public unions which are bankrupting our
    country. Government employees should not be in unions. It is
    a conflict of interest and skews elections to politicians who support unions.

  18. dave

    Florida employers take full advantage of Right to Work. Low pay is a way of life here and the attitude is leave if you do not like it. GOP likes to screw the average worker and that to is well known. The turnover for many of these dead end jobs is very high and little distinction is made for people with college or high school degrees. In short if you want a career do not move to Florida.

  19. Mathilda Wieand

    GDP nowadays is not a good indicator of satisfaction and employment especially if the state is trying to manipulate the system, or the data, in order to decrease the results of unemployment. They do it to make their rule look good.

  20. Casey

    I moved to the Florida Keys after college doing construction. It is a meat grinder, if you complain about not having OSHA required safety equipment you’re fired, ask about insurance fired, ask for a raised you’re laughed at. My employer lives in a three million dollar mansion in Clearwater, with a two million dollar mansion in Miami, and has a mansion in MI bigger than both combined with an elevator inside of it. Over 90% of the work force are illegal immigrants that cannot speak English, do not have visas, and if one drops he is simply replaced. To get a $1 raise I was told to get on my knees in the middle of everyone and beg like a dog by the owner thanks right to work Florida.

  21. Edgar

    I am a member of a specialized trade union in NYC. The notion that union members are unskilled, lazy, overpaid, etc. is just so much pabulum and BS propagated by the ownership class which seeks to divest workers of as high a proportion of the value of their labor as possible, and parroted by useful idiots in the impoverished red states who suffer from advanced Stockholm syndrome. Having worked both sides of the union divide I can say unequivocally that the most highly skilled, best trained and most safety conscious workers are among the union ranks. The years of professional training and knowledge, as well as efficiency, safety and quality of our work are second to none. Compared to the various other costs of doing business, labor is a relative drop in the bucket, and despite paying a wage and benefit package just under 100 dollars an hour, our signatory contractors are the most profitable. The economy is booming in this union stronghold and gives lie to the idea that paying workers a solid middle class wage for their work is harmful to the bottom line. You get what you pay for. The union contractors here understand the truth of this and consistently outperform their nonunion counterparts in quality, safety and profitability.

  22. Brett

    Wow, the original pro “right to work” posts in this thread are an indictment of the U.S. education system (also probably gop run states). I’d rather pay more taxes and union dues for a better way of life and education system, than cut taxes and raid education and social security for gop supporter pocket lining.

  23. ronald z ucker

    I came to Florida from the northeast in construction as an administrator. All goverment and large commercial projects are prevailing wage, not union. A point is made that you dont want to work and not be union company may be true, so? The government here is the lagest employer of union labor. The major attractions that we depend upon for our economy use trade union contractors. Quality Cost and Time are the golden triangle of successful projects, that is why. Oddly the average Joe here is EDUCATED to be anti-union. They are in fear of layoffs and closings. This won’t happen with right to work? BOHICA is what you get with a marginal wage and losing jobs anyway.
    We have experienced “Job Growth” here supposedly stated by our governor. In what sector is it? Pretty much in retail and call center lower wage jobs. Minimum Wage? that means if they could pay you less, they would, assuredly.

    The platform of “trickle down” was a scam to most and a boon to single digit percents. Union wages create a “Raise Up” economy. More consumer money, more spending. A new houses sold brings many more to work on a local level and new “local” (please? small business? many major corporations qualify there) business to start. Thats what builds a stable economy, people.

  24. bob

    Iam retired air force and turned down jobs when I found out they were union.I do not work under the seniorarty system.I am a adult man and I can
    Find work without help.my brother was a union
    printer and he told me you could not fire team members who did not do there job .The press
    had 15 team members ,but most of the time only about 10 did their job and the other gays goofed off but still got played. That’s way most union members are Dems.There like little babies they need someone to take care of them.I am not a Rep.Iam a Independent.


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