Richard Vedder, an emeritus economist at Ohio University, has recently released another study showing the benefits of “right to work” legislation. In a newspaper interview, he has predicted that Ohio will adopt “right to work” legislation in 2015.
Vedder has, of course, long been on the payroll of the American Enterprise Institute; so, despite his scholarly credentials, he can hardly be called impartial.
Here are three paragraphs from a story in the August 27 edition of the Athens, Ohio, Post [http://www.thepostathens.com/news/article_5daded0a-2d85-11e4-9d17-001a4bcf6878.html]:
“In 2011, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and the state Republican Party enacted a Right to Work law — through Senate Bill 5—but the law was overturned by voters in a referendum. ‘With both our neighbors (Indiana and Michigan) recently adopting Right to Work, it is inevitable for Ohio to pass the same thing,’ said Vedder, who worked on Indiana’s legislation. ‘The trend is in the direction.’
“Vedder’s study says, nationally, people working in states with Right to Work laws get paid an average of $3,000 more annually than in states without those laws. Overall, Vedder argues these laws generate higher economic growth in states that enact them.
“Sebastien Adams, a senior studying aviation management and a member of OU’s College Republicans, said, My father was a commercial pilot for Delta Airlines and he had firsthand experience with unions. He told me that unions often got in the way and that if a company truly treats their workers well there is no need for a union.’”
First, although Indiana and Michigan have passed “right to work” laws, Indiana has always been much more politically conservative than either Michigan or Ohio, and the legislation was passed in Michigan following the disastrous 2010 midterm elections that set the stage for GOP gerrymandering and at a time when Michigan’s unemployment rate was the highest in the nation.
Within that same general time frame, Ohioans repealed Senate Bill 5 by a 2 to 1 margin. But beyond the vote on that issue, they twice voted for Barrack Obama for president–in 2012 because, unlike Mitt Romney, he supported the auto bailout and one in six private-sector jobs in Ohio is related to the auto industry. And they re-elected Sherrod Brown, who is unabashedly pro-labor, by a very wide margin.
Gov. Kasich is now running campaign ads that feature policemen and other workers who explicitly assert asserting that he has learned from his ill-conceived attack on workers with Senate Bill 5. So for him to endorse “right to work” legislation following re-election to a second term would be not just hypocritical but politically damaging. We Are Ohio would certainly run his own campaign ads against him.
Moreover, if he were to win re-election by any sort of substantial margin, he would be one of the few GOP governors initially elected in 2010 to have been both re-elected by a comfortable margin and to not have legal cases pending against him. In short, he would then have a very good chance of being the GOP vice-presidential nominee in 2016 and even a chance to be at the top of the ticket. But a nasty fight over “right to work” would derail those possibilities because any repeal effort would extend into the primary season. If the legislation were repealed, he would certainly be finished nationally, and even if he beat back the repeal, doing so would require tactics that would irreparably damage any appeal to voters in the political center that he would almost certainly like to claim.
So, I am not saying that Vedder is absolutely certain to be wrong, but if he is right, then Gov. Kasich is less politically astute than even his harshest critics have ever thought.
It is also clear that the Supreme Court may impose “right to work” nationally, at least for public employees, if it gets a case that provides a better opening for such a ruling than Harris v. Quinn was. In that case, Gov. Kasich could end up in a damaging fight over “right to work” that was largely unnecessary.
But, beyond all of these political considerations, Vedder’s assertions about workers in “right to work” states earning more than those in pro-labor states and about economic growth in “right to work” states being higher than in pro-labor states are simply wrong—or, more precisely, so narrowly selective as to be grossly misleading. I have been running a series called “Right to Work, by the Numbers,” using government-provided statistics, and at best, it is ambiguous whether right to work states have any advantages over pro-labor states. And where the statistics are not ambiguous, pro-labor states have very clear advantages. In terms of quality-of-life issues for the average worker, the “right-to-work” states are anything but workers’ paradises.
Lastly, the quotation from the Ohio U senior majoring in aviation management is just priceless. He certainly knows that his career prospects would be severely damaged by an on-the-record pro-union comment. Indeed, his reiteration of his father’s opinion that “if a company truly treats their workers well, there is no need for a union,” explains why there is a widespread need for more unions. Over the last forty years, in almost every sector of employment wages, benefits, and working conditions have either been stagnant or have deteriorated. And income inequality, especially as it is reflected in the growing disparity in the incomes of upper management and average workers, has not been this pronounced since the 1920s, or the run-up to the Great Depression.
My previous posts on Richard Vedder include a four-part analysis of his proposals made in response to President Obama’s plan for higher education::
Part 1 of this series is available at: http://academeblog.org/2013/09/03/a-critique-of-richard-vedders-recommendations-for-higher-education-made-in-response-to-president-obamas-recent-proposals/
Part 3 of this series is available at: http://academeblog.org/2013/09/05/a-critique-of-richard-vedders-recommendations-for-higher-education-made-in-response-to-president-obamas-recent-proposals-3/
My series “Right to Work, by the Numbers” includes the following posts:
Part 1: Population Growth and Movement: http://academeblog.org/2013/04/03/2666/
Part 2: Immigration: http://academeblog.org/2013/04/21/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-part-2/
Part 3: Unemployment Rates, by State: http://academeblog.org/2013/04/30/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-part-3/
Part 4: Historic Highs and Lows in Unemployment, by State: http://academeblog.org/2013/05/05/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-part-4/
Part 5: Employment in Manufacturing: http://academeblog.org/2013/05/10/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-part-5/
Part 6: Loss of Employment in Manufacturing, before and during the Great Recession: http://academeblog.org/2013/07/21/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-part-6/
Part 7: GDP by State and GDP per Capita by State: http://academeblog.org/2013/12/16/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-gdp-by-state-and-gdp-per-capita-by-state/
Part 8: GDP in Urban and Rural America: http://academeblog.org/2014/02/21/right-to-work-by-the-numbers-part-8-gdp-in-urban-and-rural-america/