Several states are currently considering adopting RTW laws. These results call for policy makers to deliberate over the potential negative effect of RTW law on worker health and safety. Passing RTW laws may have the unintended consequence of elevating workplace fatalities. States attempting to reduce construction-related fatalities should consider encouraging trade union growth and repealing RTW laws.
A new study, conducted by Roland Zullo at the Institute for Research on Labor, Employment, and the Economy (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), has determined that unionization has a positive effect on workplace safety while Right-to-Work laws have a negative effect on workplace safety. The study, Right-to-Work Laws and Fatalities in Construction, analyzes extensive data from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), gross domestic product (GDP), and the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).
Some of Zullo’s conclusions are below…
Construction unionization is associated with lower industry and occupation fatality rates. Moreover, the positive effect that unions have on reducing fatalities appears to be stronger in states without RTW laws.
Our hypothesis is that RTW laws result in the underfunding of safety training or accident prevention activities.
A one percent increase in union density is associated with a 0.22 percent decline in the ratio of occupation fatalities. This estimated effect applies across all states and the District of Columbia.
The rate of industry fatalities is 40 percent higher in RTW states, and the rate of occupational fatalities is 34 percent higher in RTW states.
Indeed, results suggest that the estimated effect union density has on reducing fatalities does depend on state RTW laws…Thus, unions appear to have a positive role in reducing construction industry fatalities, but only in states without RTW laws…In states without RTW laws, a one percent increase in union density equates with a 0.58 percent decline in the occupation fatality ratio. This positive effect on worker safety is greatly reduced in states with RTW laws.
In non-RTW states, industry fatalities are 0.23 per thousand with low levels of union density, but this estimate drops to 0.16 with high union density. By comparison, the industry fatality rates in RTW states are relatively flat regardless of the level of industry unionization: with low levels of unions, the fatality rate is 0.20; with high levels the rate is 0.18. Labor unions, according to these results, are less effective at reducing fatalities in RTW states.
Another notable finding in this analysis was the reduction in fatalities attributed to states having their own department for regulating health and safety. The industry fatality rate was about 25 percent lower for states with such a plan, and the occupational fatality rate was 30 percent lower. We speculate that this reflects the relative advantage for state officials in collaborating with industry and union leaders to prevent accidents.
Zullo has some strong words for the National Right to Work Foundation, a group that lobbies for RTW laws despite their well-documented adverse affects:
The real motive of the National Right to Work Foundation is to reduce the resources of labor unions by eliminating the efficiencies attributed to union security clauses. Under RTW, objectors pay nothing, which results in a direct reduction in dues revenue. Further, unions in RTW states must expend resources to continually organize represented persons in order to sustain an active membership. The reduction in revenues and redirection of resources toward current member outreach means that organized labor has fewer resources for activities such as political advocacy and new member organizing.