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The Political Movement that Really Makes the Middle Class Richer

A political force is sweeping the nation, and it will increase both wages and opportunity for millions of working class Americans. No, I am not talking an increase in the minimum wage or “free” community college, but “right-to-work.”

Unions—those old 1950s style Democratic Party political machines—have lost key battles across the country. From Governor Scott Walker’s triumphant recall and re-election in deep blue Wisconsin to the bankruptcy of Michigan’s union paradise (Detroit), a new political organization is disassembling the big-government power base—and ordinary Americans stand to benefit.

Right-to-work laws allow Americans to take a job without having to join a union and pay automatic dues from their paychecks. This new policy gives more freedom to workers while taking power out of the hands of union bosses. As a result, right-to-work laws make it easier for companies to hire employees—and harder for unions to redirect pay to political purposes.

With increased freedom comes a gain in prosperity. Since 2003, those in right-to-work states have enjoyed a higher per-capita income compared to the cost of living—which means more money in the hands of middle-class families. Also, since 2001, right-to-work states have added a net 1.7 million jobs, while states with forced unionism lost 2.1 million. A higher income coupled with less unemployment allows the middle class to flourish.

[pq]Right-to-work laws enable more opportunity and prosperity for all.[/pq]

In forced unionism states, unions demand higher dues and pay larger salaries to their bosses. These groups founded to represent workers enjoy an effective monopoly over their earnings. In a free market, where companies and unions have to compete for this privilege, such groups are forced to provide concrete benefits for their customers. Forced unionism allows bosses to escape this duty, and make a killing from their “service” to employees.

Right-to-work laws break this monopoly, and restore a free market in labor. This explains the higher wages and the higher rate of employment—companies can afford to hire more people when the union doesn’t take a cut, and workers can make more money when they don’t have to pay for representation.

In 2014, Americans flocked to right-to-work states. According to a study of three shipping companies—Allied Van Lines, Atlas Van Lines, and United Van Lines—Americans made more right-to-work states their new homes. States without right-to-work laws ranked lowest—with more people choosing to live elsewhere.

Leaders in Kentucky’s Warren County once had to send away 75 percent of out-of-town job prospects, but have garnered new attention from businesses after passing right-to-work laws. Since 1978, Kentucky has allowed “home rule” on such issues, with the legislature explaining that counties “were best suited to handle what our constituents needed.” Despite opposition from the state legislature and the Attorney General, right-to-work is already winning on this local level.

Last year, the union membership rate fell to 11.1 percent nationwide—the lowest in a century. It has declined—with only a slight interruption in 2007—for the past 30 years. Only 6.6 percent of those in the private sector are still in a union, while 35.7 percent of government workers claim union membership.

The Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk argued that unions represent “a product that hasn’t changed that much since the 1930s when America’s labor laws were founded.”  It seems many working Americans agree.

Even in the automotive manufacturing industry—the old power-bed of the 20th century union—over 70 percent of 2013 production occurred in one of the 24 right-to-work states. Economic growth in car manufacturing increased by 87 percent between 2002 and 2012 in these states, while it fell by 2 percent in forced unionism states (excluding Indiana and Michigan, which are now right-to-work).

Right-to-work enshrines the freedom to use our talents to the improvement of ourselves and those around us. It enables more opportunity and prosperity for all, as demonstrated by the growth in states which have adopted it. Each of these new developments reinforces a key political lesson—if you want economic and societal success, advocate for freedom.