Backed by an array of wealthy corporations and secret deep-pocketed donors, these laws have proliferated in Republican-controlled states across the country, leading to lower wages and fewer benefits for not just union workers, but all workers in those states. People of color—particularly women of color—are hit hardest by these laws. According to the Economic Policy Institute, wages in right to work states are 3.2% lower than in non-right to work states. Health insurance and retirement security are scarcer.
So why would any policy maker push legislation that lowers wages? One obvious reason is that big corporations love these laws, because they undercut the ability of working people to stand together in a union to demand fair wages and decent benefits for a hard day’s work. But if you look at the history of these laws, there’s an even more sinister reason behind them: racism.
Many attacks on labor unions have roots in white supremacism.
University of Arkansas Associate Prof. Michael Pierce explained:
Right to work laws originated as means to maintain Jim Crow labor relations and to beat back what was seen as a Jewish cabal to foment a revolution. No one was more important in placing right to work on the conservatives’ political agenda than Vance Muse of the Christian American Association, a larger-than-life Texan whose own grandson described him as 'a white supremacist, an anti-Semite and a Communist-baiter, a man who beat on labor unions not on behalf of working people, as he said, but because he was paid to do so.'In the view of King and many other extremists, labor unions must be destroyed, because immigrants and people of color have a better shot at the American Dream when they are able to organize and join unions. Lower wages for everyone, including blue-collar whites, is just collateral damage in King’s view. Supporters of these laws will never admit to the racist origins of right to work. And they certainly won’t cop to the widening inequality gap these laws create.