Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, as they successfully pressed first for passage of a state law prohibiting forced union dues and fees, and then to prevent Big Labor from overturning this law in a statewide referendum, Idaho Right to Work activists had few friends in the political establishment.
The Gem State’s union-label Democratic governors during those decades, Cecil Andrus and John Evans, were unabashed cheerleaders for compulsory unionism.
Meanwhile, establishment Republicans’ relationship with the Right to Work movement was often frosty.
For example, 1986 GOP gubernatorial nominee David Leroy tried to have it both ways during his campaign, announcing late in the game that he would oppose efforts to reinstate the then-fledgling Right to Work law if Big Labor succeeded in overturning it. (Ironically, this craven attempt at self-preservation probably cost Mr. Leroy the governorship.)
Also in 1986, Republican James McClure, then Idaho’s senior U.S. senator, poured cold water on both local and national pro-Right to Work efforts, publicly declaring:
“I’ve urged Republicans not to raise the issue for years. I think it’s a bad political issue for us, and it’s a real motivational issue for the union people.”
But after Idahoans upheld their Right to Work law by a solid 54% to 46% margin on November 4, 1986, and also reelected their staunchly pro-Right to Work junior U.S. senator, Republican Steve Symms, on what was otherwise a bleak day for GOP U.S. Senate candidates, Mr. McClure admitted he had been wrong.
Most Idaho Politicians Have Finally Decided to Stop Arguing With Success
In 2010, 25 years after the Idaho Legislature overrode Gov. Evans’s veto and adopted a state Right to Work law prohibiting the termination of workers for refusal to pay dues or fees to an unwanted union, most of the Gem State’s politicians have finally decided to stop arguing with success.
On August 5, current Gov. Butch Otter (R) and state House Speaker Lawerence Denney (R-Midvale) gathered together with former Idaho Freedom to Work leader Gary Glenn, National Right to Work Committee Executive Director Reed Larson, and other movement veterans to celebrate the law’s anniversary.
Mr. Larson, leader of the National Committee from 1959 until 2003, spoke on behalf of the organization at the event in Garden City, an enclave of Boise, Idaho’s capital.
“Even taking into account the difficult national economic climate since 2007, Idaho has established a remarkable track record of growth since 1987, the first full year the state’s Right to Work law was in effect,” notes Mr. Larson.
“From 1987 through 2009, real personal income growth in Idaho outpaced the national average by nearly 80%. By comparison, from 1965 to 1987, personal income growth in Idaho had slightly trailed the national average.
“Similarly, from 1987 through 2009, private-sector employment in Idaho grew five times as much as the national average. But from 1965 through 1987, private-sector job growth in forced-unionism Idaho was less than three-quarters as much as the national average.
“Idahoans recognize an economic benefit when they see it. That’s one reason why they overwhelmingly support retention of their Right to Work law and oppose any weakening of it. And like other Americans, Idahoans support the Right to Work as a matter of principle.
“Idaho’s Right to Work law has become so popular that even this year’s Big Labor-backed Democratic nominee for governor, Keith Allred, is sending mixed messages about whether he’ll support a scheme to bring back forced union dues or fees.”
More and More Montanans Eager to Replicate Idaho’s Right to Work Experience
Mr. Larson adds that, in today’s troubled economic climate, when state civic leaders are especially eager to do everything they can to facilitate income and job growth, the Idaho Right to Work model is looking more and more attractive to other states:
“It’s easy for people in neighboring forced-unionism Montana, for example, to see that the job climate for talented employees is far superior in Right to Work Idaho. That’s why, just from 2000 to 2008, Idaho’s college-educated adult population grew 64% faster than Montana’s.
“More and more people in Montana and other nearby forced-unionism states are eager to replicate Idaho’s Right to Work experience. And the National Committee and its 2.6 million members stand ready to help them do just that.”