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Journal of Political Economy






University of Chicago Press

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State right-to-work laws, the subject of considerable controversy in the industrial relations field, typically state that no person will be required to become a union member or, conversely, be required to abstain from union membership as a condition of obtaining or retaining employment. Little hard evidence exists on the effect of right-to-work laws. Meyers (1955) concludes that in Texas the law does not appear to have had a noticeable impact on union strength. Kuhlman (1955) finds that the Virginia law has caused little change in hiring practices, and he cites lack of enforcement as a major cause. Novit (1969), in examining Indiana as the only state to pass a right-to-work law and subsequently repeal it, argues that the law was ineffective because unions found ways to circumvent its restrictions. During the period 1957-65 when the law was in force in Indiana, there was a dramatic increase in the agency shop which allows nonunion workers but which requires all employees to pay union dues. A Fortune (1957) survey of employers and union leaders in states with right-to-work laws concluded that the laws had little effect on overall union strength. In many states the laws were not being enforced, and in some instances employers were unwilling or unable to avoid de facto union shops. For example, in Arizona it was reported that the attempt to hire a nonunion worker resulted in the union labor force calling in sick. Similarly, in Nevada, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Iowa, the survey found that unions were able to maintain union shop practices in spite of legislation to the contrary. One North Dakota legislator expressed his frustration by remarking, "It's a beneficial law to have, but there is no specific use for it right now" (Fortune 1957, p. 236). In this paper we pursue the question of the effect of right-to-work laws beyond the impressionistic and fragmented evidence just cited and attempt to determine whether such laws significantly affect union membership. Since measuring the impact of right-to-work laws necessitates holding "other things" constant, a secondary product of this study is the assessment of the effect of other variables on union membership.


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