Democratic presidential candidate and California Sen. Kamala Harris has said that if she’s elected, she would issue an executive order to rescind hard-won worker freedom.
Maybe it’s a “California value” to support conscripted unionism. But before Harris’ position becomes too hardened to walk back, she should consider how reforms would benefit workers in her home state.
At a recent union event in Las Vegas, Harris said part of the job of being president is “to speak up about the needs and the rights of workers,” and their ability “to organize and fight for their rights … It has to be about banning right-to-work laws.”
Forget for the moment that Harris has been tagged as an authoritarian for, in the words of Kristin Tate, promising to use “executive powers to ban state laws just because she doesn’t like them.” For now, let’s focus on what it would mean for California workers if this were a right-to-work state.
In right-to-work states, workers can decide for themselves if they want to join a union or remain independent. In 22 states, including California, workers are forced to join unions, or at least pay union dues, when their employers use organized labor.
Liberating workers is one of the great advantages of right-to-work arrangements. For instance, they are not compelled to support unions, and their political activities. Workers have the power to take back control of their paycheck when they find little value from the union or disagree with its positions.
In addition to securing workers’ freedom, right-to-work laws also elevate employment opportunities. According to NERA Consulting Group, private-sector employment grew by 27 percent in right-to-work states between 2001 and 2016, but only 15 percent in states that didn’t have them.
At the same time, annual unemployment rates in right-to-work states was 0.4 percentage points lower than in states that don’t protect workplace freedom.
“In concrete terms,” says NERA, “if non-right-to-work states had had the same unemployment rate as right-to-work states in 2017, approximately 249,000 more people would have been employed.”
Economic output was also higher in states where workers are free to choose. That meant personal income was higher, as well, better by 13 percentage points — 39 percent versus 26 percent — over non-right-to-work states between 2001 and 2016, says NERA.
In Michigan, a traditional union stronghold, accelerated wage increases followed enactment of right-to-work legislation. From 2012, when lawmakers voted to secure workplace freedom, until the middle of 2015, incomes rose 9 percent faster than the national average.
Both findings invalidate opponents’ argument that workers are harmed by these laws because they drive down wages.
The NERA report also tells us that businesses prefer to locate in right-to-work states. This should be of special interest to policymakers in a state where businesses are fleeing its grinding tax-and-regulation regime in alarmingly large numbers.
It’s no coincidence that states with the best climate for small business have right-to-work laws. The data show that worker freedom laws are accompanied by economic dynamism.
States that have enacted right-to-work laws, according to Pacific Research Institute Senior Fellow Wayne Winegarden, grow faster than the states that haven’t. “The forced unionization that occurs without right-to-work laws significantly raises cost for businesses.”
“Passing a right-to-work law in California” should be at the top of any regulatory reform agenda in California, because it “will make the state more attractive to businesses leading to an increase in investment,” Winegarden added.
Greater investment will then “translate into more jobs and higher incomes.”
In some sense, all states are now right-to-work states for public employees, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, in which a 5-4 majority said that that government workers are not required to pay unions to keep their jobs. It has the potential to be a historic ruling, severely weakening private-sector unions as workers who have been shackled to organized labor realize they can be free agents.
To no one’s surprise, California lawmakers have been rushing to undermine Janus. Such a poisoned political environment sharply decreases the odds that right-to-work legislation would even get a fair hearing in Sacramento, much less a floor vote in one of the chambers. Harris would never have to worry about her home state challenging her administration if she used the power of the White House to roll back workplace freedom.