A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: Right-to-work laws are proven catalyst for growing jobs, opportunities; KY is 27th RTW state

By Luke Hilgemann and Julia Crigler
Special to NKyTribune

As state lawmakers propose all kinds of ways to boost economic opportunity, there’s one policy that’s rightly gaining momentum: right-to-work laws.

Right-to-work laws do more than protect individuals from being required to join a union as a condition of employment. They are a proven catalyst for expanding jobs and opportunities throughout the states.

This past weekend, Kentucky became the 27th state to pass right-to-work legislation — and it’s not hard to see why.

Many of Kentucky’s neighboring states had already passed right-to-work and Kentuckians have seen firsthand the benefits it brought to their neighbors. Indiana, for example, saw its workforce-participation rate surpass the national average less than a year and half after enacting the legislation. This has potentially cost Kentucky jobs as companies relocate to states with a better business climate.

It also explains why a dozen Kentucky counties have passed local right-to-work ordinances in recent years. These counties quickly began to outperform the rest of the state. Within six months of passing right-to-work in Warren County, local officials received inquiries from 47 economic development projects, compared to just 32 inquiries that state officials received in 2014.

Warren’s success isn’t unique among right-to-work jurisdictions.

Federal data shows that right-to-work states see higher economic and job growth than states without it. Right-to-work states have a lower unemployment rate than those that have not protected worker freedom. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also reveals that right-to-work states enjoyed job growth at twice the rate of non-right-to-work states between 1990 and 2014.

It’s no wonder that 480,000 Americans moved from non-right-to-work states to right-to-work states between July 2014 and July 2015. Of course, people relocate for many reasons, but chief among them is greater opportunity — which is exactly what right-to-work states provide.


As NERA Economic Consulting estimates, if non-right-to-work states had the law on their books in 2014, 402,000 additional workers would have been employed. Imagine all the jobs that could bring more opportunities to states that need them the most.

But in addition to spurring unmatched economic opportunity, right-to-work laws protect workers’ fundamental freedoms. Despite union leaders’ claims that right-to-work laws dismantle unions, such protections empower workers to decide for themselves whether they would prefer to join a union. That way individuals can work wherever they have the best opportunities, regardless of union membership.

Right-to-work creates a mutually beneficial environment not only between employee and employer, but also union and member. When union membership is not required, unions will do more to earn workers’ trust and association.

Unions claim that requiring membership secures better wages and benefits for workers, but that argument falls flat when factors such as cost of living between right-to-work and non-right-to-work states are taken into account. In addition, union members pay more in dues to boost leaders’ salaries and benefits compared to union members in right-to-work states.

Forced union dues can also be used for political activities — even if a member would rather not fund a specific candidate or policy. Political contributions should be a personal decision for all Americans. Union members should not be coerced into financing political activities.

In recent years, state leaders have recognized that all workers deserve the freedom to choose whether they join a union. After all, the right to freely associate is enshrined in the First Amendment. These essential worker freedoms, taken together with the economic benefits of instituting worker protections, have spurred four states to pass right-to-work laws in the past five years.

Legislators in Missouri and New Hampshire may follow Kentucky’s lead in the coming weeks — and they should if they hope to ignite economic growth.

In the case of Missouri, all but one of the state’s eight neighbors have now passed right-to-work legislation, and in November half of them had lower unemployment rates than Missouri. Both the Missouri and New Hampshire legislatures previously passed right-to-work bills — Missouri in 2015 and New Hampshire in 2011 — but neither was able to overcome their governors’ vetoes.

Now, both states have newly elected governors who support worker freedom.

Other states would be wise to follow suit. American workers in all 50 states should have the freedom to let their skills determine their employment opportunities, not their union membership. For lawmakers in the remaining 23 non-right-to-work states, passing such legislation is a proven way to grow the economy and improve the quality of life for all.

Luke Hilgemann is the CEO of Americans for Prosperity. Julia Crigler is the Kentucky State Director of Americans for Prosperity.

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  1. Marv Dunn says:

    …..and so says the Koch Brothers…

  2. T Collins says:

    What happens to rhe workers wages??????
    Do they fo up or down or remain the same?????

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