Recently, House Speaker Greg Stumbo presented Kentuckians with a false choice — being for or against unions.
His argument, grounded in questionable facts, has been amplified by even more unsubstantiated claims by Anna Baumann of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. I'd like to correct the record and improve the level of discussion by including references for my facts.
Stumbo argues against right-to-work, but he does not understand its legal definition. Stumbo, as well as Baumann, claim that right-to-work allows employees to benefit from union representation without having to pay dues.
This can be the case, but only when the union wants it to be. It's called becoming an "exclusive bargaining representative," which is a choice consciously made by unions. Repeatedly, the Supreme Court has ruled the National Labor Relations Act empowers unions to negotiate contracts covering only dues-paying members (Retail Clerks v. Lion Dry Goods, 1962).
Opponents of right-to-work, like Baumann, cry that exclusive representation is a financial drain, but in reality it costs the union very little. In 2013, according to federal filings, the United Auto Workers Local 2164 in Bowling Green spent only two percent of its $560,000 budget on representational activities.
Moreover, becoming right-to-work can actually strengthen unions.
From 2013 to 2014 after it passed right-to-work, Indiana added 50,000 new union members. This growth is directly attributable to a strengthened economy and unions that are more accountable to workers, the results of right-to-work. When workers have the choice to join, unions work harder to retain and grow membership, thus improving the lives of the working families they represent.
Baumann cites her research to assert that right-to-work has no positive impact on the economy. Stumbo also cites her research, but it is nothing more than a defensive position.
Right-to-work states have held statistically significant economic growth advantages in every 10-year period dating back to the 1960s (see "The Wealth of States" by economists Arthur Laffer, Stephen Moore, Rex Sinquefield and Travis H. Brown).
They play defense, because as the facts suggest, their commitment to the status quo will do nothing to encourage economic growth.
Since that argument falls short, they pivot to a wage comparison between right-to-work and non-right-to-work states. The biggest problem with their comparison is that a majority of right-to-work states have a markedly lower cost of living than non-right-to-work states, such as New York, California, New Jersey and Connecticut.
In reality, adjusted for cost of living, workers in right-to-work states have higher incomes than their non-right-to-work counterparts.
Baumann and Stumbo do get one thing right: Kentuckians deserve a debate on right-to-work, one where both sides are honest and accurate.
Considering nearly six in 10 Kentuckians support right-to-work, they should get to work on selling the status quo. Kentuckians want choice. That's not an opinion, it's a fact.