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Re-examination of Right-to-work Statutes: Outside the South

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM

Pennsylvania Convention Center, 202-B
Hosted By: Labor and Employment Relations Association
  • Chair: William Spriggs, Howard University

Right to Work and Small "d" Democracy

James Feigenbaum
Boston University
Vanessa Williamson
Brookings Institution
Alexander Hertel-Fernandez
Columbia University


Labor unions play a key role in the Democratic party coalition, providing candidates with voters, volunteers, and contributions. Has the recent decline of organized labor hurt Democrats? We use the roll out of right to work laws---which weaken unions by removing closed shop protections---to estimate the effect of unions on elections from 1980 to 2016. Comparing counties on either side of a state and right to work border to causally identify the effects of the state laws, we find right to work laws reduce Democratic presidential vote shares by 1.7 points. Right to work laws also reduce Democratic vote share in Senate, gubernatorial, and House races, as well as state legislative Democratic seat shares. Turnout is also 1 to 2 points lower in right to work counties after the laws pass. We explore mechanisms for these effects, finding that right to work laws dampen labor contributions to Democrats and that likely Democratic voters are less likely to be contacted by political groups in right to work states. The weakening of unions also has large downstream effects on both who runs for office and state legislative policy.

Right to Work and Racial and Gender Wages

William M. Rodgers III
Rutgers University


Right to Work was proposed to prevent interracial unions. But, it is oddly sometime touted as a way to go after unions that have legacy of racial segregation to prevent them from having monopoly power in the labor market. Because, until 2010, the majority of states that were Right to Work were Southern, with strong histories of legal discrimination and labor market segregation it was hard to distinguish Right to Work effects on Black wages and on women's occupational segregation. The lower wages Blacks felt because the majority of Black workers lived in Right-to-Work states could not be easily identified. This paper will use the recent adoption of Right to Work by Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana to take a closer look at how Right to Work laws effect race and gender in the labor market.

Right to Work: Is Race Endogenous?

Kristen E. Broady
Howard University
Patrick L. Mason
Florida State University


This paper examines the role of race in Right to Work. The stated purpose of the champion of Right to Work was to prevent integrated industrial unions. This paper looks at the effects of Right to Work on union density by sector to see if industrial unions had a harder time, as intended, in Right to Work states. And, it looks at the racial composition of the industrial work force to see if that effects the adoption of Right to Work by a state.
Peter Q. Blair
Clemson University
Brad Markell
AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council
JEL Classifications
  • J5 - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining