Illinois vs. Indiana union numbers appear to silence right-to-work critics
If right-to-work laws are hurting unions, you wouldn't know it by comparing Illinois with Indiana.
The Illinois Policy Institute cited Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data that show Indiana, a right-to-work state, has seen union membership grow by 23.6 percent since putting the legislation into place in 2012.
Over the same period, unions have grown by 1.4 percent in Illinois, which is not a right-to-work state.
“Right to Work should be debated on its merits in Illinois,” Michael Lucci, vice president of policy for the institute, wrote on its website. “The Land of Lincoln is surrounded by Right-to-Work states, and has the weakest industrial labor market in the region. The facts about Illinois and Indiana make it clear: A Right-to-Work law does not crush union membership, nor does it prohibit collective bargaining. But Illinois has certainly figured out the formula to stunt union growth by having slow job creation and heavy out-migration.”
Right-to-work laws prevent unions and employers from reaching agreements that require union membership, dues or fees as conditions for employment. Opponents argue that they weaken labor organizations, making it harder for unions to support themselves, while those who do not pay fees or dues still benefit from contracts derived through collective bargaining.
Lucci argues that the data from Indiana and Illinois show that right-to-work laws are clearly not dampening union membership.
“Right-to-Work laws guarantee that workers have a choice in whether or not they join and pay fees to a union,” Lucci wrote. “They don’t prohibit unions, and they don’t make it harder to organize unions. But without Right to Work, all workers in a unionized workplace must pay union fees or else they can be fired, even if they don’t want union representation. That’s unfair. Right to Work makes sure that unions earn the fees and dues they collect from members.”
According to the BLS data, since passing its right-to-work legislation five years ago, Indiana's unions have added 58,000 workers. Illinois unions have added 11,000 in the same time.
In other words, Indiana’s union membership growth rate has been five times that of Illinois', despite Indiana having an economy half the size of Illinois'.
“These facts put Right-to-Work opponents in a bind," Lucci wrote. "They can no longer claim that Right to Work crushes union membership because the comparison of Indiana and Illinois disproves that claim. And if they want to argue that Indiana has lower wages since Right to Work, then they have to address the fact that Indiana’s lower wages have happened with better union membership growth than most states have achieved, especially Illinois.”
Lucci attributes the growth of union membership in Indiana to the general growth in jobs in the state, particularly in industries that are typically unionized. He points to BLS figures on the job growth rates in right-to-work states, which have increased to 50.6 percent from 1990 rates. In states without right-to-work laws, that rate has increased 24 percent in the same period.
The discrepancy in growth rates is particularly clear when comparing jobs added to the manufacturing sector. Indiana has added 55,700 jobs since 2012, while Illinois has lost 11,000.
“Unions need what all Illinoisans need – more business formation, outside investment, productivity gains and job creation,” Lucci wrote. “Illinois lawmakers should get about the business of making the Land of Lincoln a more tolerable state for business, and then all workers will benefit.”