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Letter From Pennsylvania: The Keystone State Must Heed The Call of The Right-to-Work Whistle

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The principle of the right to work is gaining steam across America. Will Pennsylvania stoke the boilers of real progress and hop aboard the train? Or will it, as it has in so many instances, allow the train to pass it by and continue to handicap economic growth in the commonwealth?

“Right to work,” or RTW, as defined by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, “affirms the right of every American to work for a living without being compelled to belong to a union.” After all, the right to work is a fundamental human right, the foundation reminds.

And more and more states are enacting such legislation, notes Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (in Policy Brief Vol. 16, No. 55). 

“Amazingly, over the last four years since 2012 more states (four, including neighboring West Virginia) enacted RTW than in the previous 49 years dating back to 1963,” Haulk, a Ph.D. economist says.

Twenty-six states now have right to work laws. Twenty-four of them voted for Donald Trump, who carried 30 states by picking up six non-RTW states -- Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, Alaska and Montana.

“Now there are news reports that Kentucky and Missouri, having voted for Republican majorities in both legislative chambers as well as the governorship, will be moving quickly to pass RTW legislation,” boosting the total number of right to work states to 28, Haulk notes.

Ohio, with its Republican governor and GOP legislature, could become RTW’s 29th state, the think tank president speculates; New Hampshire also could join the right-to-work ranks.

Thus, Pennsylvania, with a Republican-controlled Legislature but a Democrat governor, could find itself “under great pressure” to become a right-to-work state, Haulk says.

Unfortunately, “It’s not likely to happen in the next couple of years,” he says. “But it is time for renewing the effort to get the topic moving as a major strengthening of free market economics in the commonwealth.”

Haulk says companies in New York and New Jersey, steadfast organized labor states without right to work laws, could be ripe for picking if Pennsylvania enacted RTW legislation, negating the “need for them to go to the Carolinas or Tennessee or Georgia or Indiana.”

Haulk sees “a massive shift in the political divide that has been accompanied by more conservative approaches to governance in a large number of states.”

“The recent wave of new RTW laws is a very positive sign that voters have become weary of public sector unions driving government costs and taxes higher than they need to be and usurping management prerogatives,” Haulk says.

Right to work laws also will “act as a check on private union boss greed if  Trump’s plan to bring back jobs from other countries begins to take hold,” he adds. “There are now so many states all over the country with RTW that geographic opportunities for investors will be greatly enhanced.”

And those are opportunities Pennsylvania simply cannot afford to allow the train to pass by. The Legislature would be wise to heed the call of its whistle.

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