The debate over right-to-work

Michigan is the latest state to have a very vigorous debate over a right-to-work law. What does this debate involve, and why is it important? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden responds.

“Well, what a right-to-work law says is … that if a union comes into an industry and organizes people who want to join the union can, but the union can’t force people who want to work in that industry. They can’t force them to join the union. Those states that have that kind of law are called right-to-work states.

“Now there are other states, and Michigan currently is one, that has the opposite. They say that if a union comes in and organizes an industry, let’s say the auto industry, they can force anyone who wants to work in the auto industry to join the union. And that’s what Michigan is debating – whether they want to have that law or not.

“Now there have been a couple of states who have moved from the Michigan type of situation to the right-to-work type of situation. (Incidently, North Carolina is a right-to-work state.)

“And so this has raised a big debate over are unions good?  Are unions bad?  Now I should say my father, late father, was a 60-year member of a union in the north. He was a very strong advocate of unions. And you will hear people say unions are great. They bargain for the worker. They make for better working conditions.

“Others say that, yes, but they raise costs, and now in a globalized economy where businesses and factories can move anywhere, states that have strong unions maybe can’t compete. So, you’ve got pluses and minuses on both sides, but it’s very interesting at least to me as an economist to see that states are now getting down to really debating this and potentially changing their legislation.”


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