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.