Republicans and unions don’t get along. That’s nothing new. But with 2015 ushering in a new wave of Republican-controlled legislatures across the country, their fight is taking on new fervor in places, like New Mexico, where there was little chance to undermine worker protections fought for by labor.
Sen. Sander Rue (R-Albuquerque) introduced a so-called right-to-work law that would end the practice of unions organizing all workers of a particular job class or function to operate as a collective unit. Why? Because freedom! Just kidding (almost).
Republicans are making passing a right-to-work law a top priority in the legislative session that starts in a few weeks.
What is right-to-work? The Albuquerque Journal‘s Thom Cole sums it up like this:
If such legislation were enacted into law, nonunion employees in workplaces covered by collective bargaining agreements could no longer be required to pay union fees. Such nonunion workers cannot vote on contracts but are entitled to union representation if they have conflicts with their employers over matters covered by contracts, such as termination.
But what exactly is right-to-work and are Republicans being fair with their assessment of it? We fact checked the New Mexico GOP’s statements on right-to-work. Judge for yourself.
Claim 1: Companies won’t relocate to New Mexico without a right-to-work law on the books
Republicans say right-to-work is the number one reason their economic development team hasn’t been able to recruit companies to New Mexico. Here’s how the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rue, explained it to KRQE/Channel 13:
Rue says economic development pros tell him not having this policy in place has cost the state jobs.
“They will tell you that the right-to-work component is one of the top items on their list to check off,” said Rue.
It turns out that’s not really true and some Republicans are even speaking out about it.
Less than a week after the November elections, incoming House Speaker Don Tripp (R-Socorro) told Capitol Report, “I don’t think it’s a tremendous roadblock.”
The Albuquerque Business First took the novel approach of asking an actual corporate site developer (instead of asking a Republican politician to spew the talking points) how much Right-to-Work factors into decision making in New Mexico:
Many politicians in New Mexico are saying passing right-to-work is key to attracting new businesses, but that’s increasingly not the case, according to three site selectors in North Carolina, New Jersey and California.
Talent and the cost of doing business are bigger factors, they said.
Right-to-work is “a box businesses check off when they look at sites,” Sen. Sander Rue, a Rio Rancho Republican who has pre-filed two right to work bills this year, said. Mayor Richard Berry has also used similar language to push for state law changes…
“In the old days, leading up to the mid 1980s, right-to-work was on most checklists of states to include and those to eliminate,” site selector Don Schjeldahl of The Don Schjeldahl Group of North Carolina said on Wednesday. “Since 1984, right-to-work has steadily become less and less important as a location factor for most companies to the point now that it hasn’t come up on my projects in probably 10 years.”
“I believe [right-to-work] is old thinking, and it becomes a factor only because someone is not well informed,” he said. Instead, he said, the world has moved beyond the influence of organized labor, and efficiencies have made right-to-work inconsequential. Schjeldahl has worked with Konica, Levi Strauss and American Tool.
Read the full story: “Right-to-Work is ‘old thinking’ site selector says
If 1984 was your big year, right-to-work is your kind of bill. But if you’ve moved onto the internet age and are looking to compete with countries anywhere more modern than North Korea, there are bigger things (like an educated work force?) to invest in.
Claim 2: Unions interfere in a worker’s opportunity
“Supporters say these [right-to-work] laws give workers more freedom,” Fox News says. But, that’s not true.
But don’t take our word for it. Ask the right-wing’s favorite political idol, Ronald Reagan:
“These are the values inspiring those brave workers in Poland. The values that have inspired other dissidents under Communist domination. They remind us that where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost. ” – Pres. Ronald Reagan, Labor Day Speech at Liberty State Park, Jersey City, New Jersey, September 1, 1980
And if you can’t believe Ronald Reagan, who can you believe?
Claim 3: “Right-to-work states have lower instances of unemployment and have higher incomes”
The incoming House Majority Leader, State Rep. Nate Gentry (R-Abq.) told KOAT-TV, “right-to-work states have lower instances of unemployment and have higher incomes,” Gentry said.
It turns out non-partisan academic studies have thoroughly debunked these myths time and time again.
The conservative Wall Street Journal reports that wages for manufacturing employees is 7.4% lower in states with right-to-work laws.
Need more? David Schultz is a professor of business at the Hamline University School of Business (in Minnesota, in case you were wondering). His bio says he teaches classes on privatization in business, so he should be 100% for right-to-work, right? Think again.
Professor Schultz was so tired of RTW conservative myths dominating the conversation, he penned a summary of academic studies on RTW for the Minnesota Post:
In “Right-to-Work Laws and Economic Development in Oklahoma” Lawrence Mishel finds no evidence that RTW laws increase employment. Conversely he finds evidence that they decrease wages. Lonnie Stevans of Hofstra University in a paper entitled “The Effect of Endogenous Right-to-Work Laws on Business and Economic Conditions in the United States: A Multivariate Approach” reached the same conclusion on both points, while also noting that the rate of self-employment was higher and bankruptcies lower in RTW states.
So, RTW doesn’t improve our economy, expand worker opportunity, lower unemployment or raise our economy. So what’s this really about?
So what’s the real agenda behind right-to-work? Eliminating the competition, for one. Some organized labor unions have sister political organizations who support candidates for office. They mostly support Democrats. Members opt into those groups with their own money giving them a voice in politics that rivals corporate influence on the right like the Koch Brothers. Eliminating unions also eliminates those political groups who oppose their “me first” message.
But at its core, right-to-work allows companies to spend less on fair pay and benefits for employees without any similar cap on CEO salaries or overblown compensation. That helps conservatives raise more money from the wealthiest Americans who overwhelmingly support Republicans for office.
Even the conservative’s most vocal advocate for conservative and libertarian economic policies, the Rio Grande Foundation’s Paul Gessing, admits it in an an op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal last week. “[R]ight-to-work will… reduce the fundraising power of a key special interest group,” he says.