Why Michigan’s ‘Right-To-Work’ Law Won’t Benefit The State’s Workers

Michigan’s so-called “right-to-work” measure officially went into effect today, just more than three months after Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed the anti-union legislation into law. Snyder and Michigan Republicans have touted the law as a way to boost the state’s lagging economy, saying it would make it more competitive for businesses and a better place for workers.

Evidence from other right-to-work states, however, presents a far different case. Such laws cost all workers, union and otherwise, $1,500 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Those wage losses especially impact the middle class, and as a result, economic mobility between classes is stronger in union states. The following chart shows how states rank for relative economic mobility, which measures the percentage of residents starting in the bottom half of the national income distribution who move up 10 or more percentiles in a 10-year period. In the chart, 12 of the 13 states that outperform the national average for mobility are union states (including Michigan, which was a union state when the study was conducted), while 14 of the 15 that underperform are right-to-work states:

The Pew study did not attempt to find correlation between union membership and mobility, but it stands to reason that union membership plays a vital role in the difference. Union workers, as the Center for American Progress’ David Madland and Karla Walter found, are more likely to have health coverage and retirement plans. “If benefits coverage in non-right-to-work states were lowered to the levels of states with these laws, 2 million fewer workers would receive health insurance and 3.8 million fewer workers would receive pensions nationwide,” Madland and Walter wrote.

While Michigan’s law won’t benefit workers, it likely won’t help the state’s economy either. The Economic Policy Institute’s studies of right-to-work laws have found “that there is no relationship between right-to-work laws and state unemployment rates, state per capita income, or state job growth.”