Heritage Foundation: Right to Work Creates Jobs and Choice

James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation confirms what we have known for decades, enacting Right to Work laws create jobs and promote choice for workers:

Union contracts frequently require employees to pay union dues or lose their jobs. This forces workers to support the union financially even if the union contract harms them or they oppose the union’s agenda. Several states, including New Hampshire and Indiana, are considering right-to-work laws, which protect workers from being fired for not paying union dues. Unions oppose these laws because they reduce union membership and income. However, the rest of the economy benefits from right-to-work laws.

States can and should reduce unemployment by becoming right-to-work states.


Unions often negotiate contracts requiring all workers to pay union dues or lose their jobs, whether or not they support the union. But many workers reject unions. Some do so because union contracts reduce their pay. Others oppose unions’ political agendas: Unions almost exclusively support Democrats, despite 37 percent of their members voting Republican in the last election.[1]

To prevent workers from being forced to support unions financially, 22 states have passed right-to-work laws. Such laws prevent companies from firing workers who do not pay union dues. Workers may still pay voluntarily, but unions cannot threaten their jobs if they do not join. Lawmakers in several states, including New Hampshire, Indiana, and Michigan, are considering right-to-work bills.

Forced Unionization Is Not an American Value

The government should not force workers to pay for unwanted union representation. In a free society, workers alone should make that choice. Right-to-work laws also make good economic sense. They reduce the incentive for union organizers to target companies that treat their workers well. Since unions hurt businesses, less aggressive union organizing attracts investment—and jobs.

Lawmakers considering right-to-work proposals should ignore the union movement’s self-interested opposition. Unions could negotiate contracts that apply only to their members—they simply prefer not to. Unions should not be able to force workers to choose between financially supporting them and losing their jobs.

Unions Lose Money When Workers Opt Out

The union movement strongly opposes right-to-work laws. It has self-interested motives in doing so: Union membership fell 15 percent after Idaho and Oklahoma passed right-to-work laws.[2]

Most of the union-represented workers who choose not to pay dues when given the option are those who do not benefit from union contracts. Disproportionate numbers of highly educated workers, for example, choose not to pay dues—the very workers held back by union seniority systems.[3] Without the threat of losing their jobs, the union movement will not persuade these workers to pay dues.

Making union membership voluntary would save workers—and cost unions—a lot of money. Losing 15 percent of their dues-paying members would cost private-sector New Hampshire unions $1.9 million a year. Right-to-work would similarly save private-sector workers in Indiana $18.4 million a year. In Michigan, right-to-work would save workers $46.4 million a year. [4] Giving workers a choice means less money for unions.

Less Aggressive Union Organizers

For the same reason, right-to-work reduces the aggressiveness of union organizers. Making union membership voluntary reduces the financial incentives for unions to target workplaces where they have lukewarm support. Research shows that union organizing falls 50 percent within five years of a state passing a right-to-work law.[5]

Workers who feel mistreated have the right to unionize. Right-to-work laws encourage union organizers to restrict their attention to such workers.

Increased Investment in Right-to-Work States

Right-to-work states are much more attractive for businesses investment. Unionized firms earn lower profits, invest less, and create fewer jobs than comparable nonunion firms.[6]

Boeing’s decision to build a new plant in South Carolina—a right-to-work state—illustrates a larger trend.

Research suggests that foreign direct investment in Oklahoma and Idaho increased after these states passed right-to-work laws.[8]

More Jobs

States that attract more investment should create more jobs. In fact, right-to-work states have lower unemployment rates (9.2 percent) than states without right-to-work laws (9.9 percent).[9]

The share of manufacturing jobs in counties in right-to-work states is one-third higher than in adjacent counties in non–right-to-work states.[10] Right-to-work laws attract jobs.

Wage Effects Small

Economic theory does not predict how right-to-work laws affect wages. The additional business investment a right-to-work law attracts usually raises the demand for labor, increasing wages. Yet unions argue that businesses will cut wages if the risk of union organizing falls.

Most studies show that right-to-work laws have little effect on wages in either direction.[11] Right-to-work states do have lower average wages than non–right-to-work states, but this is because they are located primarily in the South, which was once much less developed than the North and still has a lower cost of living. Research controlling for this shows that workers in right-to-work states have, if anything, slightly higher wages.[12]

Members-Only Contracts Permissible

In a free society, workers should not have to financially support organizations they oppose.

Unions do not have to represent workers who do not pay dues. They can negotiate contracts that apply only to their members. The law requires unions to represent nonmembers only if they negotiate as “exclusive bargaining representatives.”[13]  Unions almost never do this.

Consider seniority systems: They ensure that everyone gets raises and promotions at the same rate, irrespective of individual performance. If a union negotiated a members-only contract with a seniority system, high-performing workers would refuse to join. Those workers would negotiate a separate contract with performance pay. The best workers would get ahead faster, leaving less money and fewer positions available for those on the seniority scale. The union wants everyone in the seniority system—especially those it holds back.