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American Labor Unions are Failing as States Shift to Right-to-Work

Updated on June 7, 2014

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What is the Right-To-Work?

According to Wikipedia, the “right-to-work” is the human rights concept that people have the right to work or engage in productive employment, and may not be prevented from doing so.

This right-to-work is stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment."

The right-to-work clashes with organized labor unions that protest and often go on strike, when union demands are not met. This causes delays and many problems for large companies and states that have deadlines to meet.

The Right-to-Work Movement

A movement is taking place in America, one state at a time.

Michigan has been the latest state to pass right-to-work restrictions. This is causing alarm to organized labor in the Midwest. The right-to-work movement is gaining momentum, as Indiana also enacted right-to-work restrictions earlier in the year. This makes Michigan the second state in the “industrial Midwest” to follow suit, and the 24th state to enact right-to-work provisions.

One state watching very closely to Michigan’s bold move is Wisconsin, which passed several laws in 2011 to restrict labor unions in the public sector, but did not fully pass right-to-work restrictions. Politicians in Wisconsin, particularly Republicans, will be no doubt be developing a strategy to follow Michigan’s giant move against labor unions in the “cheese state.” Other states that could be next are Ohio or Pennsylvania.

Organized labor unions are starting to get worried, since Michigan is considered a state with heavy labor union ties to the auto industry. There were over 12,000 protestors in attendance when the Michigan legislature voted on Tuesday, December 11, 2012.

How Right-to-Work laws Affects Businesses/Workplace

A 2007 study by Lonnie Stevans found that states with right-to-work laws help to boost the number of businesses in a state. Owners see the income gains, while the average wages of individual workers went down. Stevans said: ”Although right-to-work states may be more attractive to business, 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.”

When labor unions are weakened in heavily unionized states like Michigan, then workplaces such as automobile plants are no longer required to pay labor unions. This loosens the grip of the labor union’s influence in the workplace, and reduces the labor union resources – finances in particular. In essence, “no money, no power.”

Workplaces without the presence of unions are more productive, and work production in factories meet deadlines without fear of strikes or protest.

Thomas Holmes found in a study (1998) that companies in unionized states often relocated to right-to-work states, due to the difficulty of operating with labor unions.

A survey in 1998 by William Moore found that right-to-work laws allow more independent behavior in employees, leading to the decline in union drives to organize and successfully achieve labor union goals. This was seen in Idaho and Oklahoma after they adopted such right-to-work laws.

Farm Labor Union

Farm Labor Union; Galena, KS 1938
Farm Labor Union; Galena, KS 1938

Could This be the End of Labor Unions?

Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, thinks so. He said: “It is hard to see how a union could survive under those circumstances [referring to Wisconsin’s 2011 laws passed] given how little they could contribute to collective bargaining.”

However, Rich Yeselon found an example of workers that pay their labor dues in a right-to-work state, appearing to be a minority in labor union successes. He writes: “the most powerful local union in the country, Culinary 226 in Las Vegas — a political powerhouse that ensures middle-class wages and benefits for hotel housekeepers — operates in a right-to-work state and gets close to 100% dues compliance.” This proves furthermore, that it can be done.

Currently, only 7% of the private-sector in the U.S. is unionized, and that percentage is falling.

Labor Union Poll

Would you join a labor union?

See results

Laborers On Strike

Concluding Q & A

  1. Can labor unions exist in right-to-work states? Yes.
  2. Do right-to-work restrictions weaken labor unions? Yes.
  3. Can workers get fair pay and benefits without a labor union? Yes.
  4. Who will look out for the workers without unions? Good question. States must put policies in place to protect individual workers.
  5. Do labor unions fund corruption? The saying is: "Organized Labor equals organized crime." A former labor union employee told me that the labor union he was part of, was funding corruption (the mafia). So, in some cases, yes.


Woodall, Bernie. “Michigan passes public sector “right-to-work” law amid protests.”

Grier, Peter. “Michigan ‘right to work’ law: Worse for unions than Wisconsin setback?”

Paulson, Amanda. “What Wisconsin says about labor unions’ clout in America.”

Ozbeklik, Serkan & Ozkan Eren.“Right-to-Work Laws and State-Level Economic Outcomes…”

Moore, William. “The determinants and effects of right-to-work laws…”

Yeselson, Rich. “This is Not Wisconsin. It’s Worse.”

Stevans, Lonnie K. “The Effect of Endogenous Right-to-Work Laws on Business and Economic Conditions…”

Holmes, Thomas. “The Location of Industry…”

Right-to-Work Wikipedia Entry:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights:


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    • zunoguy profile image

      zunoguy 4 years ago from United States

      I'm a part of two unions, and I've seen the benefits in one of them, but not the other. Overall, paying dues is meh but besides wage protection (to a degree), I will not use the union otherwise. However, right-to-work scares the living daylights out of me because it gives companies and employers open game to treat their workers (legally) like absolute crap. It's kinda amazing how the average worker can support this type of initiative, especially with some of the horror stories that have been growing because of 'right-to-work'.

      Yes, organized crime and some many less than stellar things have stemmed from labor unions. But as a collective body, unions do keep employers honest as they set standards for working conditions that would not be addressed seriously otherwise. Especially in a time where managers and executives are looking for reasons to get rid of people to save their own paychecks along with pushing the envelopes of unfair working environments for profits / bonuses, there still is a need for protection of the working class.

      God knows our elected officials will not do it, who do you think provides them with campaign contributions?