Like so many families in Ohio, my family is made up of farmers, auto mechanics, coal miners, railroaders, factory workers, truck drivers, and labor and trade workers. They lived through the decades of job losses caused by jobs moving outside the United States and by the introduction of technology. Today our families struggle to keep up and stay employed with real living wages. This, I believe, is in direct relation to the decline in labor unions.
One of my earliest memories of a labor strike was the 1980 coal miner’s strike in Eastern Kentucky. I was in the school my grandfather built during the depression, under the New Deal, watching U.S. Rt. 460 come to a standstill, bumper to bumper with coal trucks. The truckers were showing their solidarity with the coal miners. It was impressive and I remember feeling pride in that solidarity. I had family in the mines and in the trucks and they knew together they would prevail. But coal companies were being bought by big oil and gas. Even before this strike hundreds of thousands of miners had already lost work across Kentucky, West Virginia, and Southern Ohio. New technology and strip mining meant fewer jobs and coal mining, as my family knew it, was changing and continued to decline throughout the 80’s.
Right to Work proponents say that workers shouldn’t have to pay dues just because they are in a field that is predominately union represented. They feel it’s an infringement of their freedoms. And some supporters feel that a union presence limits industry’s ability to attract prospective employees. Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky, all neighboring states, have Right to Work laws. Below depicts a chart of data showing the difference between the RTW states and the Non-RTW states and the analysis below.
|Worker characteristics||Non-RTW State||RTW State|
|Average hourly wage (2014 dollars)||$23.93||$20.66|
|Median hourly wage (2014 dollars)||$18.40||
No matter how you slice the data, wages in RTW states are lower, on average, than wages in non-RTW states. This doesn’t just apply to union members, but to all employees in a state. Where unions are strong, compensation increases even for workers not covered by any union contract, as nonunion employers face competitive pressure to match union standards. Likewise, when unions are weakened by RTW laws, all of a state’s workers feel the impact.1
Today, in Ohio, there are approximately 639,000 union members and that’s up from 635,000 in 2016. But to continue this trend, Ohio labor unions must keep focused on the jobs of the future. Kickstarter is the first tech company to unionize and I believe more high-tech workers will begin to follow. Green Energy jobs will be another disrupter of the future workplace, so unions need to stay nimble and flexible to adapt to these changes, because employees know if they have a seat at the table - everyone benefits.
Union labor built the middle class and we will have to work diligently to protect it from the constant threat of Right To Work laws.
1 Economic Policy Institute “Right-to-Work” States Still Have Lower Wages Report • By Elise Gould and Will Kimball • April 22, 2015