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STUDY: Worker Safety Greatly Reduced in States with Right-to-Work Laws

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.


4 Comments on “STUDY: Worker Safety Greatly Reduced in States with Right-to-Work Laws”

  1. The beautiful state of Kentucky! Home of Kentucky Derby, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul!

    Unfortunately for the good citizens of Kentucky, these guys have serious troubles in their State. How will they turn our country?

    In Kentucky in terms of health (#1 teen death rates, #2 in cancer rates, #1 illicit drug use and #3 prescription drug use, #2 child death rates), education (ranks #50 in completing high school) and worker safety (#1 in deaths at work), public safety (#2 in gun death rates), in mental health (#46 in prevalence of mental health, #1 in teen suicides, #3 suicides general) and Economics (ranks #47 of 50 in median household income, #16 on medicare spending). See chart below!

    Let’s see how the country does under the ‘good ole boy’ mentality.
    Kentucky Rankings

    #1 Smokers
    #1 Teen Death Rate
    #1 elicit drug use
    #1 Marijuana Use
    #1 Occupational Fatality Rate (no unions!)
    #2 Firearms Death Rate per 100,000
    #2 Child death rate
    #2 Chlamydia Rate (sexually transmitted disease)
    #2 Cancer death rates
    #2 Oral health-loss of natural teeth
    #2 Retail Prescription Drugs Filled at Pharmacies
    #2 Percent of People 21 to 64 Years Old With a Disability
    #2 Percent of People 21 to 64 Years Old With a Disability
    #3 Homicide > Victims by Sex > Female
    #3 Suidices
    #3 Obesity Rate
    #3 Adult physical disabilities
    #4 Cancer Incidence per 100,000
    #4 Death Rate per 100,000
    #4 Heart Disease rates per 1000
    #4 Co2 Emissions (cancer causing emissions while #2 in highest cancer rates!)
    #5 high Cholesterol
    # 5 State Prisioners – number of deaths
    # 5 in Lynchings!!
    #6 in High Blood pressure
    #6 Emergency Room visits (the rest of the country pays for!)
    #9 Diabetes death rates
    #14 teen births
    #15 Hazardous Materials incidents (no unions!)
    #16 most spending on medicare
    #49 Physical exercise
    #49 Poor Road Conditions
    #48 People with Bachelors Degrees
    #46 Prevalence of Poor Mental Health
    #46 Seatbelt use (while #4 in death rates)
    #46 Median Family Income
    #50 Percent of People Who Have Completed High School
    #48 fruit and vegetable consumption (while #3 in obesity, #4 in death rates, #5 high cholesterol)

    1. incredible comment, Mr. Reynolds. I’d like to publish these numbers…

  2. OMG! Don’t tell me that unions actually have positive outcomes! That isn’t what Scott Walker told me!! Vote for safety!

    Like weekends? Thank a Labor Union! Like workplace safety? Thank a Union!

  3. Looks like SEVERAL unions in Kentucky so the post like many unionites Mr Reynolds LIES.

    AFGE – American Federation Of Government Employees

    AFM – American Federation of Musicians

    AFSCME – American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees

    ANA – American Nurses Association

    APWU – American Postal Workers Union

    BAC – International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers

    BBF – International Brotherhood of Boilermakers

    BCTD – Building & Construction Trades Department

    BLE – Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers

    BMWE – Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees

    BRS – Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen

    BSOIW – International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Iro

    CJA – The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America

    CWA – Communication Workers of America

    GMP – Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics, & Allied Workers International Union

    IAFF – International Association of Fire Fighters

    IAM – International Associations of Machinists and Aerospace Workers

    IATSE – International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees

    IBEW – International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

    IBT – International Brotherhood of Teamsters

    IUEC – International Union of Elevator Constructors

    IUOE – International Union of Operating Engineers

    IUPAT – The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades Home

    LIUNA – Laborers International Union of North America

    NALC – National Association of Letter Carriers

    NATCA – National Air Traffic Controllers Association

    NFFE – National Federation of Federal Employees

    NTEU – National Treasury Employees Union

    OPCMIA – Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association

    OPEIU – Office and Professional Employees International Union

    PPF/UA – Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Union

    RLCA – National Rural Letters Carrier’s Association

    SEIU – Service Employees International Union

    SMW – Sheet Metal Workers International Association

    SPFPA – International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America

    TCU – Transportation Communications International Union

    UAW – United Auto Workers

    UFCW – United Food and Commercial Workers

    UGSOA – United Government Security Officers of America

    UMW – Union Miners Workers Of America

    USW – United Steel Workers

    UTU – United Transportation Union

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