The Anti-Worker Agenda: “Right to Work” Laws

Workers in the US today face corporate challenges to their rights and voice in the workplace from multiple directions – from politically motivated legal challenges to the infamous Right-to-Work laws. These laws – which may go by other names in your community, eg “employee empowerment zones” – form a key component of a concerted national effort on the part of big business and their government allies to undercut the strength of unions and limit worker power in the workplace.

“Right-to-work” laws and legal efforts benefit employers at the direct expense of workers, despite their misleading name. Pitched as empowerment for all, studies show “Right to Work” laws are in fact harmful for both employees and communities, with negative outcomes ranging from lowered wages and curtailed worker benefits to increased gender and racial inequality and reduced state revenues.

With anti-worker politicians like Gov. Rauner claiming seats of power across the country, and an anti-worker Supreme Court on the horizon, union members in strong union states like Illinois must be prepared to organize together to lead the opposition against anti-worker laws. To do so, we must inform ourselves about what is at stake for workers should this corporate agenda succeed.

The Chicago Federation of Labor compiled the following excellent list of resources on “Right to Work” laws and what they mean for workers:

Get the Facts About “Right-to-Work” Laws
The Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) and the University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations’ Labor Education Program (LEP) jointly investigated the economic and policy impacts of adopting local “right-to-work” laws in Illinois. Two studies explore their findings.

The Impact of Local “Right-to-Work” Zones: Predicting Outcomes for Workers, the Economy, and Tax Revenues in Illinois The Economic Impacts of Adopting a Right-to-Work Law: Implications for Illinois

• The average worker wages are $2.90 per hour (13 percent) higher in Illinois than in right-to-work Indiana and Illinois added 14,000 more jobs in 2014.

• Right to Work lowers workers earnings. Over 10 years, the effect of RTW on incomes would be a loss of almost $24,000 for all workers.

• Nationwide, union membership is correlated with approximately a 12-13 percent increase in earnings.

• Over time, the hourly wages of African-American workers would decrease by 2-9 percent, the hourly wages of women would fall by between 2-8 percent, and the hourly wages of Latino/a workers could fall by as much as 8 percent.

• Construction fatality rates in right-to-work states were higher than those in collective bargaining states.

• More people lack health insurance in right-to-work states.

• Right-to-work is not a major factor in where businesses locate.

• Fair share fee payers do not have to pay for political causes or other non-representation costs with which they do not agree.

Additional Resources

• Illinois Federation of Teachers: Right to Work is Wrong for Illinois | Turnaround Agenda Tracker

• IBEW Local 134: Rauner Report


Enough – The real story behind the attacks on working people in Wisconsin, Ohio and around the country, and a look at what’s at stake in this fight for the middle class.

What is Right to Work?

This list excerpted from:

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