At best, right-to-work is a questionable idea

Mar 02, 2015

he chances of a right-to-work bill passing the state Legislature look considerably dimmer than they did just a month ago — and that’s a good thing as far as we’re concerned. As Republican Gov. Scott Walker himself has pointed out, the Legislature has better things to do. This divisive debate would reopen old wounds over a bill that would do next to nothing for the state’s economy and could very well harm it.

Jason Stein and Patrick Marley of the Journal Sentinel’s Madison bureau surveyed Republican senators for an article in the Sunday paper, and while they found none outright opposed to right-to-work there was reluctance to take it up this session. Several either said they were undecided or wanted to dodge the issue. The Republicans control the Senate by an 18-14 margin at the moment (likely soon to be 19-14), and that means they need most of their votes if the Democratic minority is, as expected, in lock-step opposition to a right-to-work measure.

“My point is that there’s been a lot of talk, there’s been a lot of stories on it, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be on my desk any time soon,” Walker said recently. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) now sounds less optimistic than he did in early Decemberwhen he pledged to quickly take up right-to-work. Such legislation would ban employers and unions from including provisions in contracts requiring workers to pay union dues. Similar laws are on the books in 24 states, including Indiana and Michigan.

But the efficacy of right-to-work laws is suspect, undercutting a central argument in their favor: Conservatives claim they boost state economies and offer workers the freedom to choose whether to be in a union. They do offer that freedom. Whether they do anything at all for a state’s economy is notoriously hard to figure out. Many factors affect whether a state or region thrives — its infrastructure, its weather, its workers’ skills, even what time zone it’s in. Partisan studies generally don’t bother to control for the various factors that can affect job growth and tend to give right-to-work laws more credit than they can rightfully claim.

Meantime, there is evidence that wages may not grow as fast in right-to-work states — or may even decline in real terms. And one study found that even if there are benefits, those do not flow to workers but remain with business owners. At best, this is a mixed bag — andcertainly not the economic driver that backers claim it is.

It seems to us, on balance, that right-to-work isn’t much of a benefit and could be a drag on the pocketbooks of working people in Wisconsin. Why some Republicans insist on fighting this divisive battle in this state at this time is puzzling. They should drop this questionable idea and focus on issues that matter a great deal more.

Source: JS Online



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