Defining “worker freedom” in this country is a subjective task. At minimum, it ought to include a law protecting the right of individual workers to choose whether or not to join or remain in a labor union. Yet other criteria also would seem to qualify – and on a state-by-state basis. A Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization, the Alliance for Worker Freedom (AWF), has been doing just that. And now the fruits of its labors have arrived. On December 6, the alliance released a monograph titled, 2007 Index of Worker Freedom: A National Report Card. Prepared under the supervision of AWF Director of Policy Brian M. Johnson, the study assigned a grade to each state based on 10 factors affecting worker freedom. The 75-page report, available in hard copy and on the group’s website (www.workerfreedom.org), should serve as a valuable reference for employers, employees, public officials and researchers.
The Alliance for Worker Freedom is an affiliate of a larger Washington nonprofit group, Americans for Tax Reform. Founded in 2004, the AWF seeks to preserve individual worker rights and promote job growth and investment opportunity. The group explicitly bills itself as a countervailing force to union power at the workplace and in the halls of government. It realizes that unions, by nature, seek to maximize collective-bargaining ability, whether in the private or public sector. Part of that mission is using the political process to guard their ability to attract and keep members, even if in practice that translates into obtaining a license to use deception and coercion. States have a wide degree of latitude to side with – or oppose – union institution-building at the expense of worker and employer liberty. The 2007 Index is the first in what Johnson asserts will be an annual series.
State government officials especially should pay heed. As Bob Williams, president of the Washington State-issues think tank, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, notes in the report’s Foreward: “States are in a critical position to answer tough questions about the role of public-sector unions, minimum wages, pensions, right-to-work laws, and paycheck protection…People, businesses, jobs, and potential sources of state revenue can easily move to a more economically viable state. Labor policies in general and worker freedom in particular contribute significantly to the climate.”
Toward that end, AWF researchers established 10 separate benchmarks, based on 2006 data, for rating worker freedom in a given state. With an explanatory note, they are:
Right to Work laws. These are statutes on the books in 22 states prohibiting unions from conditioning a worker’s continued employment upon payment of dues.
Minimum wage. Some states have a minimum wage that is higher than the current federal minimum of $5.15 an hour, recently reset by Congress to rise to $7.25 an hour by 2010.
Union density. This term refers to the percentage of a state’s total work force belonging to a union.
Paycheck protection. These are state laws that prohibit public-employee unions from using worker dues or fees for political contributions without the written consent of individual employees on an annual basis.
Prevailing wage. States have the authority to enact their own version of the federal Davis-Bacon Act, which mandates federal contractors or subcontractors pay the prevailing wage rate or higher in their local market area.
Defined-contribution pension. This refers to whether or not a state has a retirement plan for public employees allowing them to invest in portable accounts of their own amount and investment type.
Collective bargaining. Certain states have laws forcing public agencies to set wages and benefits according to union-dictated standards.
Public-sector union membership. This term represents the percentage of public-sector employees who are union members.
Entrepreneurial activity. This term measures the percentage of employers in a state who own startup businesses, something the AWF argues renders the state less vulnerable to union pressure.
Workers compensation. These laws provide employees injured or disabled on the job with fixed monetary awards, thus eliminating (at least in theory) the need for potentially costly litigation.
The AWF staff applied a binary system of scoring; i.e., assigned a score of “1” or “0” for each variable. These scores either corresponded to “yes” or “no” or to whether a result was above or below the national average.
The researchers added up all the “1” scores to come up with a grade for each state, with “0” representing “F” and “10” representing “A+.” No state received a perfect “10,” but one, Utah, rated an “A” (“9”), and four others – Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi and South Carolina – got an “A-” (“8”). At the bottom end, six states – Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island – received an “F.” Some two-thirds of all states – 34 – received scores ranging from “C-” (“2”) to “B+” (“7”). That’s another way of saying that the Alliance for Worker Freedom is optimistic, but sees much room for improvement.
The monograph does not directly address the issue of union corruption, but it is both intuitive and empirical that the compulsion to steal grows with the availability of funds. States that lack Right to Work laws and other mechanisms for holding union monopoly bargaining in check tend to be those where corruption has been most problematic. The Alliance for Worker Freedom may not have intended to lessen union corruption, but the lessons of its Index of Worker Freedom, properly heeded, may yield this by-product. (Alliance for Worker Freedom, 12/07).