Debunking RTW Wage Argument

The battle over right to work legislation in Wisconsin looks a lot like the end of a hard-fought boxing match in which both competitors are practically dead on their feet, exhausted and stumbling, swinging at air.

One particularly limp talking point from the union advocates, whose effort to fight RTW has been predictably flaccid, is the argument that making RTW the law in Wisconsin will diminish unions and lead to lower wages.

There are two avenues for arguing against this talking point. First, if the union activists acknowledge – as they do – that RTW will lead to many locals hemorrhaging enough dues-paying members to be decertified, then they’re acknowledging most workers won’t see the union as valuable enough to keep paying for it.

That’s an open-and-shut argument in favor of giving workers the option. If even the union doesn’t believe it’s providing enough value to its members to stay alive absent forced membership, then they’ve long outlived their usefulness.

As to the argument that wages will decline in workplaces without a union, one need look no further than the service sector to witness a hard reality that permeates every corner of the economy: real wages have been declining for a long time. Not because of a lack of unions, but because of the kinds of jobs that we’re creating.

Service sector jobs – cooks, waitstaff, call centers, and others – have supplanted well-paying manufacturing and construction jobs as the state’s bottom has rusted out and high-quality jobs have fled. Needless to say, cooking doesn’t pay quite as much as construction.

After unions cleaned up the workplace and ensured fair treatment of workers, the valuable and worthy purpose for their inception well over a century ago, they began to set their sights higher, negotiating lavish, unsustainable pay and benefits packages. They took to protecting Lazy Larry from being fired and resorted to thuggery and intimidation to secure work. To seed new unions, they started rigging workplaces with “salts” and tried to eliminate the secret ballot, opening the door to intimidation and union bullying of dissenters.

Deals like that lead to the rotting out of the state’s old economy and the closing of many good employers in Wisconsin, the most notable recent example the Janesville GM plant, a remnant of fatter times when the company could afford to support an entire city in southern Wisconsin.

Union deals are sclerosis on the economy. Every employment decision is made into a month of paperwork and headaches in a union shop and there’s no incentive to excel in any way other than to stay employed long enough to achieve seniority. Desperate to remain competitive, nimble, and lean, companies in unionized industries have either died or left.

The presence of a right to work law in Wisconsin will be just part of a complex matrix companies use to decide where to expand or locate. But inasmuch as it draws those higher-paying manufacturing jobs to Wisconsin, then the opportunities those employers will present for Wisconsin’s workers (union or not) will be of a much higher caliber than the opportunities in a predominately service-based economy.

In short, a few unions might get decertified. But the working class as a whole will be much better off in the long term with unions weakened.


About the writer: Chris Rochester has worked in communications and finance for a state Senate and congressional campaign, consulted on numerous Assembly and local races, and has held leadership roles in his local Republican Party. He's communications director for the MacIver Institute. Commentary here is strictly his own.
  • Jerry Hanson

    Chris what is the timeline for RTW to begin kicking the Wisconsin economy in the butt? Since this is being rushed through to signing in an extraordinary session I must assume we could shortly expect these companies to come to Wisconsin with jobs and wage increases. Approximately when would the Wisconsin economy see a turn around and roughly how many new jobs can we expect? We certainly need a kick in the pants as since Walker took office we have lost 35,000 middle and high wage jobs. Walker has been responsible for 85,000 jobs that pay under $10 per hour. He also can count 46,000 jobs that pay $10-$12.50 per hour. Since Walker has been in office manufacturing wages have fallen noticeably with production occupation wages falling by 5.2%. Even welders, which Walker has touted as an occupation in demand in Wisconsin, have seen real wages fall 6.5%. CNC machine tool operators also supposedly in high demand have had a 4.7% drop in wages. How did this fall in wages occur if as you contend unions are holding manufactures hostage with non-productive actions and demanding high compensation? Could you spell out exactly what RTW will do that will counter what Walker and his Republican legislators did in his first term that sunk our economy and cost us living wage jobs?