Sunday, November 29, 2015

Is Right-to-Work Good for West Virginia?

If 2015 was a preview, the 2016 legislative session in Charleston is going to see heated debate on a variety of issues. It’s a safe bet that one of the hottest topics is going to be right-to-work legislation.

Right-to-work gives workers the choice of not joining a union, even if their workplace is unionized. Workers already in the union can elect to leave it if they desire.

Supporters of right-to-work believe it empowers workers and makes unions more accountable - a union must bring actual value to the employee-management relationship, else it risks losing members and bargaining power.

A study by West Virginia University found employment growth in some - but not all - right-to-work states. In fact, of 10 states that enacted right-to-work laws from 1950 to 2011, five had economic growth above the national average while the other five had growth below the national average. Obviously, right-to-work is no panacea.

Naturally, most unions are against right-to-work laws, believing they hurt employees with lower pay and less stringent workplace safety regulations. The laws affect union membership as well, shrinking it an average of 20 percent.

Opponents of right-to-work point to a study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, which found wages in right-to-work states were on average 3.2 percent lower than in non right-to-work states.

In a state that already has one of the lowest wage rates in the United States, is it wise to enact legislation that could lower it even more, with no certainty it will add jobs?

Isn’t it prudent to offer a good wage to keep employees happy and productive? Granted, there are no jobs without companies to create them. However, legislation such as right-to-work that’s intended to attract businesses and grow jobs can also have the downside of depressing wages and benefits.

West Virginia’s lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, have a lot to think about before next year’s session kicks off. Our state is in the economic doldrums, that much is certain.

Improving the situation is of vital importance, and our leaders need to choose wisely the approach they’re going to take. Looking at the WVU study, the jury is still out on whether right-to-work is the magic elixir so many Republicans think it is.

The people of West Virginia need a solid jobs plan from Charleston… one not based mostly on idyllic dreams of a new boom in coal. We need a diverse economy, with companies that pay a decent wage and offer good benefits.

Is right-to-work the correct choice to boost our state’s employment? Before our elected leaders decide, they need to impartially examine the pros and cons, weigh all the data, and not cherry-pick just what they agree with.

This is what we the citizens should expect, and what we deserve.

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