WATERS: Social worker’s right-to-work ‘research’ is shaky

Jim Waters head

Not only is there a real gap in economic growth between states with and without right-to-work policies, but the chasm between those who write papers from ivory towers and local leaders fighting in the trenches to bring jobs to their communities has never been wider.

Take, for instance, a recent attempt by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy to slow the momentum of counties passing right-to-work laws by issuing a paper denying the reality of many locally elected county leaders statewide: losing out on attracting jobs for their constituents because our state lacks a right-to-work law, which simply allows individual employees who work at union plants to say “yes” or “no” to paying dues without losing their jobs or otherwise being penalized.

“Local leaders maintain that the push to turn Kentucky into a RTW state, county by county, is motivated by the idea that doing so will create jobs, but that idea is not supported by rigorous research,” writes Anna Baumann, the policy center’s research and policy associate whose bio shows a background in social work.

“Plus, she also considers herself a farmer,” her website bio states.

But an economist she is not. In fact, I couldn’t find the bio of a single economist on the entire Kentucky Center for Economic Policy website.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being a social worker or farmer – those are worthy endeavors that play vital roles in our society.

However, if you’re going to challenge local leaders with claims that “rigorous research” nullifies their actual experience of losing jobs and investment that manufacturers would bring to their counties if the state had a right-to-work policy, shouldn’t you at least possess the economic chops to make such claims?

Also, you shouldn’t ignore what’s happening in Michigan, where, according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 142,000 more people are employed and private-sector weekly earnings have increased 5.4 percent since the Great Lakes State became the 24th state to pass a right-to-work law in December 2012.

Before the fiscal court in Boone County – the commonwealth’s fourth-largest county – recently became the 12th Kentucky locality to approve such a policy, Trey Grayson, president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, told magistrates that Boone “needs this is our economic toolbox.”

Boone County Judge-Executive Gary Moore told the court that leaders of Tri-ED, an economic-development group in the greater Cincinnati area in northern Kentucky, informed him that passing a right-to-work ordinance would give his county a significant competitive advantage over regions without such policies.

Baumann mentions “conversations with site consultants and economic development officials” in downplaying the impact that the lack of a right-to-work policy has on Kentucky’s growth and yet fails to identify her sources.

Meanwhile, many site-selection consultants are on the record – including in this column – who clearly have the expertise and experience to speak to this issue.

What they say, without fail, is that right-to-work policies matter to companies – particularly manufacturers – with whom they consult and that are looking to expand or relocate.

Before Boone County’s court passed its right-to-work ordinance – becoming the largest county in the commonwealth to do so – Jim McGraw of KMK Consulting, a site-selection consultant who works frequently with Northern Kentucky counties, said “on any kind of level playing field, right to work is going to make the difference.”

It certainly is in Michigan, Indiana and even in Warren County Kentucky, where phones are ringing briskly as local leaders field calls that represent the potential of new jobs, expanded opportunities and the kind of economic growth being enjoyed by other states.

Isn’t this the kind of economic progress that “progressives” like social workers, farmers and even the Democratic leaders at the state House should support?

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.