- - Monday, January 12, 2015

After another wave year for conservatives, multiple states are primed to enact right-to-work policies.

Right now, in 26 states, workers can be forced to join a union and pay compulsory dues. Even if an employee opposes the union’s efforts, they can still be required to join – just to keep their job. States with right-to-work laws, however, grant workers freedom from joining a union and paying dues.

No one should be forced to join an organization they don’t want to in order to get a job. If an employer required prospective workers to join the Democratic or Republican Party to get hired, hysteria would ensue. So, why do more than half the states allow for a policy that can compel employees to join a union?

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The answer is: They shouldn’t.

I want to be clear, right-to-work is not about diminishing unions. It is about empowering workers with the freedom of choice. In fact, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, union membership grew slightly from 2004 to 2013 in right-to-work states, but actually declined by nearly five percent in non-right-to-work states.

If anything, unions are better off in right-to-work states.

Workers are also better off. Economic growth happens at a faster pace in right-to-work states, and wages are also higher. After adjusting for cost-of-living, income was about $2,000 higher in right-to-work states in 2013.

Much of this could be thanks to the fact that companies prefer to invest in states that have implemented right-to-work laws. While businesses also look at a state’s tax and regulatory climate and its workforce, right-to-work laws can be a major factor in the decision. To remain competitive, non-right-to-work  states should be looking to make the switch.

Two states that should eagerly become right-to-work states early this year are New Mexico and Wisconsin. Four of New Mexico’s five neighboring states (Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah) are right-to-work states, and three of Wisconsin’s five neighboring states (Indiana, Iowa and Michigan) are as well. To stay competitive regionally, both Wisconsin and New Mexico should be looking at approving right-to-work policies.

New Mexico faces an uphill climb with a Democratic state Senate, but the House flipped to Republican control for the first time in decades – showing there is momentum for more conservative policies.

Gov. Susana Martinez, New Mexico Republican, recently came out in support of the policy and said she would push for it.

“It is fundamentally wrong to require membership [in a union] in order to get a job … or take money from the paychecks of our workers by force,” Ms. Martinez said at a Chamber of Commerce event.

Wisconsin faces a much easier right-to-work path. Both chambers of the legislature grew their conservative majorities in the last election. The State Assembly holds a 63-36 Republican majority and the State Senate holds an 18-14 Republican majority with one vacant seat after Campbellsport Republican Glenn Grothman was elected to Congress.

Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, has not been as outspoken about right-to-work policy, though. Mr. Walker has repeatedly said the issue would be a “distraction,” but conventional wisdom says he would sign a right-to-work bill if it landed on his desk.

The Dairy State also has a great jumping off point in the form of Mr. Walker’s signature public-sector union collective bargaining reforms known as Act 10. Essentially, for most public employees, Wisconsin is already a right-to-work state.

With strong majorities in each chamber, now is the time for Wisconsin legislators to be bold.

And it is not just Wisconsin and New Mexico that should move quickly on right-to-work measures. States like Ohio, New Hampshire and West Virginia should be looking to implement worker freedom policies as well.

As I said before,  right-to-work laws are good for workers, union membership actually grows and it can make states more competitive economically. It is a win-win-win for legislators and governors who are looking to help move their states in the right direction.

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