Right-to-Work Legislation Sees Renewed Activity Among States

Right-to-Work legislation has garnered renewed activity in states across the country. Since 2012, six states—Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, West Virginia and Wisconsin—have adopted right-to-work legislation. Conversely, New Hampshire and New Mexico voted against such a measure during their 2017 legislative sessions. Though legislation varies by state, right-to-work laws allow an employee to work for a business without being obligated to join a labor union. Union groups strongly oppose such legislation as they argue it would jeopardize worker wages and benefits and allow workers who do not pay dues to benefit from union wage and benefit negotiations. Advocates of the law maintain that it encourages economic development and provides options for employees.

Opposition groups have particularly made their voices heard in Missouri, which adopted right-to-work legislation in 2017. The state recently saw the law suspended through a petition initiative. If the state is able to validate at least 100,000 signatures from the petition, the law will be added to a statewide ballot for public approval. If Missouri sees the law upheld, the total number of states with some type of right-to-work legislation in place would increase to 28. 


A concern for states still considering right-to-work legislation are the economic effects of the law. These effects have been notoriously difficult to determine due to the multitude of factors at play, such as the business policies of other states, the historical presence of unions, and the economic benefits of manufacturing clusters1. In a 2012 study, Michael Hicks of Ball State University researched economic trends in the manufacturing industry for states that adopted right-to-work legislation. The study found that “states that changed their right-to work laws experienced significant variation in their manufacturing sectors, ranging from significant declines (greater than 10 percent over a decade) to very large gains (almost a doubling of manufacturing).” Hicks concluded that the study was not able to isolate a clear economic effect of right-to-work legislation on the industry and that the variance in states’ experiences may be attributed to other factors.1



1Hicks, M. J., Ph.D. (2012). Right-To-Work Legislation and the Manufacturing Sector. 1-6. Retrieved from https://cms.bsu.edu/-/media/WWW/DepartmentalContent/MillerCollegeofBusiness/BBR/Publications/RightToWork/RightToWork.pdf.