Right to work laws have led to skyrocketing manufacturing growth in the auto industry, according to a new study.
The National Institute of Labors Relations Research, an employment policy think tank, found that the auto industry’s flight from coercive unionization has produced a boom in right to work states, such as Tennessee. The institute traced federal labor statistics from 2002 to 2010 and discovered a dramatic shift in where the nation’s cars are being built.
"Considering just the 22 states that had Right to Work laws from 2002 to 2012, the Right to Work share of nationwide automotive manufacturing output grew from 36% to 52% over the decade," NILRR researcher Stan Greer wrote on the institute’s website. "Real manufacturing GDP in these 22 Right to Work states grew by 87% from 2002 to 2012, but fell by 2% in forced-unionism states."
Foreign carmakers, such as Toyota, Honda, and Volkswagen have established factories in right to work states, as well as non-union shops in Kentucky. Additionally, Ford, GM, and Chrysler have shifted jobs and supplier contracts from forced unionization states to right to work states.
"As recently as 2002, just 21% of the total U.S. output in automotive manufacturing took place in Right to Work states," Greer found.
That gap will likely widen when the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis release manufacturing data for 2013 later this year.
Michigan and Indiana, two of the largest automobile manufacturing hubs in the United States, became right to work states in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Those laws will allow autoworkers to opt out of the United Auto Workers when their current contracts expire, which could signal a steeper decline of the number of cars built by unionized workers.
Auto expert Ted Niedermeyer said that Big Labor’s dominance of the auto industry "is on its last legs."
"The fact that the UAW has not responded well to competition explains why auto production in this country is only expanding in non-union states," he said.
The UAW has been trying for many years to insinuate itself into a manufacturing facility in a right-to-work state in order to boost its sagging membership. The union had its best chance when it secured Volkswagen’s support to unionize a Chattanooga, Tenn., facility, Niedermeyer said. While management embraced unionization, workers soundly rejected the UAW in a February vote.
Patrick Semmens, a spokesman at the National Right to Work Committee, said that workers have witnessed the negative effects that come with union representation, as companies shift jobs out of traditional manufacturing sites. The fact that business is booming in union-free shops reminds workers of the potential downsides of unionization.
"The moral case for Right to Work as a means of protecting the individual rights and free choice of workers is strong enough all on its own. But time and time again we see that freedom for workers also benefits the economy of states that choose to protect worker choice and the booming auto industry in Right to Work states is just another example," Semmens said.
Niedermeyer added that the rejection of the UAW in Tennessee is only the first sign of lagging support for unions among autoworkers.
"Beyond even the UAW's rejection at the Chattanooga, Tenn., Volkswagen plant we are now seeing pro-union workers at the Mercedes plant in Vance, AL telling the UAW that their presence has been counterproductive," he said. "The UAW-affiliated automakers have been shedding production capacity over the long term due to eroding market share, and are unlikely to add any significant amount of new production jobs in the US any time soon."
These trends could play a central role as right to work laws are debated in Missouri and other states, according to NILRR’s Greer writes. Lawmakers should have to reconcile the impact that forced unionization could have on local economies.
"The overwhelming advantage Right to Work states have enjoyed over forced-unionism states in attracting automotive manufacturing investment ought to put the burden of proof on Big Labor legislators in forced-unionism states like Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio who claim it makes no difference to companies considering new plant construction or expansions whether unionism is voluntary or not," he said.