Monday, October 24, 2011

Weekly Opinion Editorial




HAS RIGHT TO WORK WORKED?




by Steve Fair




Right-to-work laws are enforced in twenty-two states, mostly in southern and western states. Right to Work laws are allowed under the provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act, which prohibit agreements between labor unions and employers to make union membership and/or payment of union dues a condition of employment.
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Oklahoma passed State Question #695(Right-to-Work) on September 25, 2001 in a special election. The vote was close- 54% to 46%- with twenty six of the state’s seventy seven counties voting against the proposal. Of the twenty two Right to Work states, Oklahoma was the last state to pass Right-to-Work. To view county by county election results, go to http://www.ok.gov/elections/support/02sq.pdf
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In 2001, I wrote a brochure that was widely distributed in the state advocating the passage of Right-to-Work entitled, “The Exodus Continues.” It featured a comparison of the mass migration of the Okies fleeing the dust bowl to modern day college grads fleeing the state for better paying jobs. The facts were clear- just like in the 1930s, Oklahomans were leaving the state not because they hated Oklahoma, but because they needed a job.




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It has been ten years since Right to work was passed in Oklahoma and eight years since it was implemented. Has passage of Right-to-Work worked in Oklahoma? That is a legitimate question and one that deserves an answer.




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According to The Economic Policy Institute, R-T-W has failed in Oklahoma. In a paper written in February 2011, the EPI claims “manufacturing employment and relocations into the state (Oklahoma) reversed their climb and began to fall, precisely the opposite of what right-to-work advocates promised.” They also point out the state’s unemployment rate(still lower than the US rate) continues to be comparable to neighboring states. You can read the report at http://www.epi.org/publication/right-to-work_law_did_not_help_oklahomas_labor_market/
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In the interest of full disclosure, The Economic Policy Institute is a union funded organization with an agenda, so their objectivity in the analysis must be questioned. Because jobs are a primary issue at the forefront of the 2012 Presidential campaign and Republicans have introduced a National Right to Work Act in Congress, the EPI will use any means possible to defeat a National Right to Work law. For more on the National Right-to-Work law, go to http://capwiz.com/nrtwc/issues/alert/?alertid=48799571&type=CO




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Last week, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs released an in-depth study by Scott Moody and Wendy Warcholik countering the EPI study. They claim Right-Work has been a boon for Oklahoma. “Manufacturing output and productivity have outpaced the competition, and people from non-RTW states are voting with their feet by moving to Oklahoma in increasing numbers,” Moody and Warcholik wrote. You can read the report at http://www.ocpathink.org/articles/1549.
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Oklahoma’s population grew +8.7% between 2000 and 2010, but according to the US Census Bureau, the US population grew faster- +9.7% -during that same period, so Oklahoma has not seen major population growth from migration. And increased productivity” in manufacturing was not what those of us advocating passage of Right to Work were talking about in 2011. When we said R-T-W would help Oklahoma, we meant jobs- real jobs. We expected existing businesses to expand and grow and other businesses to relocate to the state.




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The truth is the measure of how Right to Work has helped Oklahoma is somewhere in between the two studies. Passing Right-to-Work in Oklahoma was not a mistake and it certainly has helped our state in business recruitment, but it is fair to ask if R-T-W has delivered what was expected. It hasn’t and here is why:
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First the national economical climate has been poor. Even though the R-T-W election was held two weeks after 9/11, no one could have foreseen that event would have a dramatic impact on the economic business climate in America. Ten years later, almost ten percent of Americans are unemployed and our country teeters on the brink of bankruptcy. Much of that is due to the cost of the war on terror.
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Secondly, Oklahoma has a flawed strategy in business recruitment. Economic development teams across the state spend too much time trying to recruit the ‘sexy’ jobs (aerospace/high tech), to Oklahoma and neglect the ‘meat and potatoes’ (distribution centers/consumer products) segment. Because of our geographic location, Oklahoma should be the hub for DCs, freight companies and CPG manufacturers. Those segments provide good paying stable jobs. In economic development, every segment should be recruited.
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Thirdly, Right-to-Work was just one of the impediments to recruiting business and industry to Oklahoma. Oklahoma’s workers comp laws and jackpot justice laws were two others. This past legislative session progress was made in both those areas. We have other impediments- tax structure, infrastructure- and our leadership must address those if we are to continue to move forward.
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Finally, passing R-T-W was not a quick fix solution to Oklahoma’s job woes. It took the state one hundred years to get to #45 in the country in per capita income. It will take time to reverse the trend but Scotsman Walter Elliott, a physician and politician, was right when he said "Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another." Right to Work was just one of those races.

1 comment:

david said...

This is a great idea, am wondering if you can schedule posts using this interface. I only see Publish and sometimes I want to schedule publication of my inspiration rather than immediately publishing.



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