1/20/08

'What it means to be a right-to-work state.'

A couple of readers have taken me to task over my commentary of Jan. 6 when I repeated a local businessman’s idea that perhaps Tuscarawas County should become a right-to-work county. That prompted, as I should have figured it would, an array of angry e-mails, some laced with words that shouldn’t be used in a family newspaper. A couple of Readers’ Viewpoints passionately extolled the virtues of unions.

One claimed that “right-to-work laws are an assault on workers and their families. They open up the door to fear tactics and intimidation, promoting a race to the bottom mentality that is not only destroying the middle class but is having a devastating impact on the economic stability of this country.”

I’m OK with a debate over whether right-to-work laws are good or bad. But I think we need to clarify what it means to be a right-to-work state.

In a right-to-work state, employees of a particular employer, who collectively bargains with a union, don’t have to belong to that union if they don’t want to and they are not forced to pay union dues even though they reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of such bargaining.

Employees who opt not to join the union are called “free riders” (or maybe something worse by their union colleagues).

Our letter writers are not wrong when they underscore the good that unions have accomplished and their importance to the development of the middle class. That’s a given. But here’s another one: The economies of right-to-work states (such as Oklahoma and Alabama) generally are robust while the economies of non-right-to-work states (such as Michigan and Ohio) generally are not. Twenty-two states are right-to-work states.

Certainly the argument could be made that factors (read: high taxes) other than right-to-work enter into the equation.

But many of the new manufacturing jobs, including thousands in the automobile industry, created in the country over the last 15 or so years have been in right-to-work states. Nissan built plants in Tennessee and Mississippi; Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai in Alabama; and BMW in South Carolina.

On the flip side? Honda (Ohio and Indiana) and Toyota (Kentucky and West Virginia) are doing quite well in non-right-to-work states.

My point of that Jan. 6 commentary was not meant as an argument to turn Ohio or Tuscarawas County into right-to-work entities. It was meant to sound an alarm in the collective brain of Gov. Ted Strickland and his fellow politicos that high-tax Ohio needs innovative thinking. We have to change the way this state does business because industry generally is looking elsewhere now to locate its new jobs. In time, that certainly will have a devastating impact on the economic stability of our state.

- Dick Farrell is editor of The Times-Reporter.

(timesreporter.com)

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