Blog Posts > West Virginia Families Benefit From Free Bargaining
December 18, 2012

West Virginia Families Benefit From Free Bargaining

Michigan has become the 24th state to pass “right-to-work” legislation. Essentially that means collective bargaining agreements cannot require nonunion employees to pay union dues. However, nonunion employees may still often benefit from wage agreements, a grievance process, and other benefits negotiated by the union.

West Virginia does not have a “right-to-work” law, but some think Michigan’s move may open the door for discussion in the Mountain State. This may threaten many West Virginian unions, which represent over 102,000 workers.

The Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, has released research studying the effects of right-to-work laws on workers. It shows that “right-to-work” legislation reduces pension coverage, has no impact on job growth, and reduces wages and benefits. After controlling for education, experience, and various other factors, the average hourly wage in states with freedom of contract was 3.2 percent higher than “right-to-work” states. Workers were also more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and pensions at their workplace. The map below shows stark differences between right-to-work states and free bargaining states.

Ezra Klein, blogger/editor at the Washington Post, calls “right-to-work” laws “misleading” in that they do not guarantee eager workers an occupation, but instead the right to not contribute to the costs of union representation.

It is important to keep unions strong in West Virginia. Reports from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) show that unionization raises the average West Virginian workers wage by almost 23 percent. An average nonunion worker makes $17.13 an hour, while a union member makes $21.83.

As West Virginia leads the region in low-wage occupations, it is vital to point out that healthy unionization strengthens the financial security of working low-income families. According to another study by CEPR, low-wage workers in West Virginia have experienced a 15.8 percent increase in wages if they are in a union. A typical low-wage worker has his/her hourly wage increased from $6.86 to $7.94.

CEPR also concludes that unions help raise wages and benefits for women and young workers. On average, women’s wages are raised by 11.2 percent, are 19 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and about 25 percentage points more likely to have an employer-provided pension. Unionization in West Virginia raises a woman’s wages by 8.4 percent, from $11.06 to $12.07.

For young workers—ages 18-29—unionization raises average wages by 12.4 percent. Young workers also are 17 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and about 24 percentage points more likely to have an employer-provided pension. In West Virginia, a young worker’s wage increases by 12.4 percent, from $10.21 to $14.12.

HOURLY WAGES

Union

Non-Union

Low-Wage Worker

$7.94

$6.86

Woman Worker

$12.07

$11.06

Young Worker (18-29)

$14.12

$10.21

Source: Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2008

Unions are a vital piece of ensuring a shared prosperity in West Virginia. They are one of the best ways workers in West Virginia can improve their paychecks and provide needed financial security to their families. So called “right-to-work” laws threaten that security and can drive an economic wedge between high earners and low earners, which can only increase our already rising income inequality. By combating anti-worker legislation, we are protecting the rights of workers and contributing to the economic growth of the state.

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