Commentary

Evidence Shows Wisconsin Governor Would Be Mistaken to Turn Back Right to Work Laws

By Stan Greer | May 8, 2019 | 3:19pm EDT
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

This week, the Wisconsin General Assembly’s Joint Budget Committee (JBC) is crafting a 2019-2021 budget that will reportedly remove more than 70 non-fiscal items from the budget plan proposed by union-label Gov. Tony Evers earlier this year. 

One key provision targeted by the JBC is Evers’ bid to repeal Right to Work protections for employees, reinstitute forced union dues and fees, and take Wisconsin down the same path that is already being followed by Big Labor-dominated states like Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where wealth-building opportunities for middle-class people are far fewer than they are in Wisconsin.

Evers has claimed restoring union bosses’ special coercive privileges will somehow help ordinary working men and women, but Wisconsinites know from their own bitter experience as well as from the track records of current forced-dues states that he’s completely wrong about that.

If Evers, who was narrowly elected last year, thanks largely to the massive campaign support he received from the union political machine, is truly concerned about the future of the middle class, he ought to be working now to build on Wisconsin’s recent record of success.

Since Badger State elected officials, heeding the pleas of their freedom-loving constituents, abolished compulsory union dues and fees four years ago, opportunities for young families and other people to join the middle class have blossomed.  One important illustration of Right to Work’s economic benefits is home ownership.

U.S. Bureau of the Census (BOC) data show that there were just 1.51 single-unit housing authorizations per 1,000 Wisconsin residents in 2014, the last year before the Badger State went Right to Work.  Four years later, there were 1.99 single-unit housing authorizations per 1,000 Wisconsin residents.

And Wisconsin is just one of many erstwhile forced-unionism states that have shown significant improvement since they adopted and implemented Right to Work protections for employees.

On February 28, the BOC reported that, after years of declining American homeownership, the number of U.S. households who own their homes rose by 1.7 million last year as the nationwide number of renter households fell by 167,000.  The overall homeownership rate is now back up to what it was in 2014.

There is widespread agreement among economists that the rebound in homeownership, if it persists, will be a very good thing for the American middle class.  Urban Institute Vice President Laurie Goodman, for example, calls homeownership “the best way” for most Americans “to build wealth.”  Bloomberg contributors Conor Sen and Noah Smith concur, declaring that “it will be difficult to give renters anything close to equal opportunity in America without giving them a path to homeownership.”

And according to the homeownership opportunity standard, there’s ample evidence that state Right to Work laws prohibiting the termination of employees for refusal to join or bankroll a labor organization help middle-class people build wealth and that compulsory unionism hinders wealth accumulation.

Last year, for example, the BOC’s tracking of residential construction in the 50 states shows there were 3.59 permits per 1,000 residents for construction of privately-owned, single-unit houses in the 27 Right to Work states as a group.  That’s well over double the 1.62 authorizations per 1,000 residents in the 23 forced-unionism states in 2018.

The correlation between Right to Work laws prohibiting forced union dues and fees and new single-family housing is quite robust.  Eleven of the 13 states with the most 2018 authorizations per resident are Right to Work states. But of the 10 bottom-ranking states, nine (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island) are forced-unionism.

Evers will never succeed as governor if he continues to carry water for Big Labor’s counterproductive and unpopular agenda.  But with more than three-and-a-half years to go in his term, he has plenty of time to change course if he wishes to.

Stan Greer is a Senior Research Associate for the National Institute for Labor Relations Research.

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