Since the beginning of Right To Work legislation, there have been claims on both sides for the drastic effects, whether good or bad, of such a law.
Most evidence doesn’t paint a strong picture one way or the other.
Dozens of studies have been conducted to determine what RTW legislation actually does, and so far, there is no scientifically valid conclusion.
“From an economic standpoint, the results from Right to Work legislation going in place are pretty mixed,” said Laura Wind-Norton, economics instructor at Nicolet College. “We see that there’s some evidence of reduced wages, but there’s also a lot of other things going on at the same time in each state.”
According to a study by Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, in 2001, the average reduction in wages after controlling for regional cost of living is four percent in RTW states.
These studies are looking at a small slice of a big pie. It’s almost impossible to isolate the causes of things like wage decrease, which could be the result of dozens of factors coming together.
“What you’re doing is trying to do a static analysis of a dynamic system,” Wind-Norton said. “And because our legislature has been relatively busy, making a lot of changes, it would be very hard to isolate and say, this was the final piece.”
In addition, what few vocalists of the issue take into account is the basic foundation of states that adopt Right To Work. The legislation was originally developed to help southern states compete with heavily unionized northern states. The effect on states like Wisconsin that have a history of strong unions may not be the same as those in the south.
Unions have been on the decline for a long time up until this point, so claims that RTW laws are the reason for any effect that follows decreasing union support may not be based in fact.
“If there’s an erosion in unionization within a state, then you’re going to tend to see wages reduced,” Wind-Norton said. “This just gives that opening for something else to happen, so could the stage have been set before? Very likely.”
The same argument can be made for proponents who say RTW will grow business.
Job growth and economic development have been reported in RTW states, but is it a direct result of the legislation, or the result of predisposed characterization of traits in the states that were targeted for RTW.
“I think there’s been a lot of controversy over some of the studies that have come out, and I would say at best we’re basically at an inconclusive point,” Wind-Norton said. “I don’t see anything that would convince me that this is going to make a big difference economically.”
As the 25th state to take the step, Wisconsin makes 50 percent of the U.S. Right to Work.
“Statistically speaking you’d say well, if they were going to move to someplace that already had [Right to Work], wouldn’t they have done that already? …It can’t just be this one thing, this isn’t going to solve all of our problems,” Wind-Norton said.