National Right-to-Work (for Less) Bill Introduced


March 2017


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At least two noteworthy anti-worker bills already have been introduced in the current session of Congress – one calling for a national so-called right-to-work (RTW) law, and the other aimed at repealing the Davis-Bacon Act.


While the introduction of those bills has become a yearly event on Capitol Hill, the threat of enactment is much higher now. The Republican Party platform endorsed both measures, and President Trump is on record (as recently as early February) as a backer of RTW.


As one pro-worker journalist put it, “The practical impact of RTW is to make every worker a free rider, able to use the union’s services without paying for them – and to smash unions by financially crippling them so much that they can’t defend workers in the first place…. The 66-yearold Davis-Bacon Act prevents cut-rate contractors from low-balling workers’ wages on federally funded projects.”


AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Sean McGarvey labeled Davis- Bacon repeal (introduced in the Senate) “the Pay Cut for America’s Workers Act.”


Reacting to the so-called RTW bill (introduced in the House), AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “Right to work is a lie dressed up in a feel-good slogan. It doesn’t give workers freedom – instead, it weakens our right to join together and bargain for better wages and working conditions. Its end goal is to destroy unions. Numbers don’t lie. Workers in states with right-to-work laws have wages that are 12 percent lower. That’s because unions raise wages for all workers, not just our members.”


Trumka also pointed to a recent Pew survey showing that 60 percent of Americans support unions.


“Americans clearly see the value of coming together with their co-workers to tackle inequality,” Trumka observed. “Right to work isn’t the will of the people; it’s legislation pushed on working people by out-of-touch corporations that want to ship jobs overseas, cut health and safety protections, and pay lower wages. This is an attempt by corporate CEOs to further tip the scale even more in their favor, at working people’s expense.”


He concluded, “Working people were loud and clear in this past election. We want an economy that works for all, not just corporations. We know we need to rewrite the rules of the economy so that policies like bad trade deals and right to work aren’t the new norm. President Trump has said he supports unions and the people who are our members. He has stood up to corporate Republicans on trade. We call on him to do the same on right to work, and to stand up for every worker’s right to join a union.”


The national RTW bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina). The Davis- Bacon legislation was introduced by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona).


McGarvey said Flake “is completely oblivious to the political undercurrents relating to blue-collar economic anxiety that propelled Donald Trump into the White House … and possesses a warped sense of empathy when he believes wages of $17.37 and $15.49 an hour – current Davis-Bacon prevailing highway construction wages for a backhoe operator and a laborer in Arizona – are simply too high for taxpayer-funded construction projects. At those wage rates, these workers would earn, respectively, roughly $35,000 and $31,000 annually. Not exactly a king’s ransom.”


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Deceptive Right-to-Work Laws Hurt Everyone


Editor’s note: This information was provided by the AFL-CIO.

By many measures, quality of life is worse in states with right-to-work laws. Wages are lower, people are less likely to have health insurance and the necessary resources for a quality education, poverty levels are higher as are workplace fatality rates.

States with Right-to-Work Laws Have Lower Wages and Incomes

On average, workers in states with right-to-work laws make $6,109 a year (12.1%) less annually than workers in other states ($44,401, compared with $50,511).

Median household income in states with these laws is $8,174 (13.9%) less than in other states ($50,712 vs. $58,886).

29.6 percent of jobs in right-to-work states were in low-wage occupations, compared with 22.8% of jobs in other states.

States with Right-to-Work Laws Have Lower Rates of Health Insurance Coverage

People under the age of 65 in states with right-to-work laws are more likely to be uninsured (13.0%, compared with 9.4% in free-bargaining states).

Only 47% of private-sector employers in states with these laws offer insurance coverage to their employees, compared with 52.2% in other states. That difference is even more pronounced among employers with fewer than 50 workers: only 30.1% offer health insurance compared with 38.1% of small employers in other states.


Workers in right-to-work states also pay a larger share of their health insurance premiums, on average, than those in free-bargaining states (28.5% of the premium compared with 25.4% in free-bargaining states).

States with Right-to-Work Laws Have Higher Poverty and Infant Mortality Rates

Poverty rates are higher in states with right-to-work laws (15.3% overall and 21.4% for children), compared with poverty rates of 12.8% overall and 18.0% for children in states without these laws.

The infant mortality rate is 12.4% higher in states with right to work laws.

States with Right-to-Work Laws Invest Less in Education

States with right-to-work laws spend 32.5% less per pupil on elementary and secondary education than other states.

States with Right-to-Work Laws Have Higher Workplace Fatality Rates

The rate of workplace deaths is 49% higher in states with right-to-work laws, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.