Vincent Vernuccio: Time to celebrate and protect worker freedom

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 17, 2022

Happy anniversary to North Carolina’s right-to-work law!

Seventy-five years ago, on March 18, 1947, North Carolina became one of the first states in the country to give workers the freedom to choose whether or not to pay a union.

A right-to-work law simply means that a union cannot get a worker fired for not paying them. In states without right-to-work laws unions can require private-sector workers to pay union fees just to keep their jobs.

This simple concept — giving workers the right to choose whether to pay union fees — does not affect collective bargaining in any other way, but it still has profound effects for workers and the economy.

Right-to-work states enjoy higher population growth, lower unemployment, higher job growth, and faster wage growth. These benefits, in addition to worker freedom, are reasons why today 27 states have enacted right-to-work laws.

North Carolina was a leader in protecting workers but now may need to catch up to ensure that workers here have this freedom far into the future. Similarly, federal policymakers also need to be wary of moves in Congress that would destroy right-to-work nationwide.

Right-to-work in North Carolina is only a statute, after all, which means it can be overturned by a vote of the legislature. While that’s not under threat in the near term, right-to-work still needs to be safeguarded for the future. Thanks to the law and other worker- and business-friendly laws, the state population is booming.

But as people move into the Tar Heel State from states hostile to worker freedom, such as New York and California, they could bring their politics with them.

A Carolina Population Center analysis of the Census data showed that, “Since the 2010 Census, North Carolina’s population has grown by 952,000 residents, an increase of 10%. Two-thirds or 67% of this growth was due to net in-migration, meaning more individuals moving to North Carolina than moving away.”

Virginia also has one of the country’s oldest worker-freedom laws, but last year right-to-work was in peril. Fortunately, the election of Gov. Glenn Youngkin and a new Republican majority in the state House saved the law, but the fact that repeal was seriously being debated is a good lesson on the need to be proactive.

That is why North Carolina needs to solidify worker freedom with an amendment to the State Constitution now, to protect the choice of private-sector workers for generations to come.

Nine of the 27 right-to-work states have constitutional provisions protecting workers’ freedom to choose to pay union fees or not.

Another neighboring state, Tennessee, is well on its way to becoming the 10th state to safeguard its workers by putting right-to-work in the state constitution. Last year Tennessee lawmakers approved a ballot question to appear during this year’s election asking voters if they want to amend the constitution to include right-to-work.

Tennessee Sen. Paul Bailey noted the need to solidify right-to-work in the state constitution: “Tennessee workers want to make their own choices in the workplace, and this amendment will forever seal that right.” He further stated that it “also sends a strong message that Tennessee will continue to foster a business-friendly climate into the future for locating high quality jobs. There is no better place than our State Constitution to ensure that Tennessee remains a right-to-work state.” The same arguments apply to North Carolina.

Right-to-work is not just under attack at the state level. Federal legislation called the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act would ban right-to-work across the country, including in North Carolina. Thankfully North Carolinians such as Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC 5), the Republican leader of the House Committee on Education and Labor, are on the front lines protecting workers and pushing back against the PRO Act.

North Carolina’s 75 years of worker freedom is one of the reasons why workers and job creators are flocking to the state. However, both at home and in Washington, work still needs to be done to protect right-to-work.

Vernuccio is president of Institute for the American Worker, a Senior Policy Advisor with Workers for Opportunity, and author of the John Locke Foundation report “North Carolina Deserves a Constitutional Right to Worker Freedom.