Last Updated on May 2, 2015 by Paulette Brown-Hinds

By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Despite what the defenders of “right-to-work” laws claim, those policies offer less protection for employees and depress the wages of non-union and union workers, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute.

The report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a progressive research and advocacy group focused on low- and middle-income workers, said that, “right-to-work (RTW) laws seek to hamstring unions’ ability to help employees bargain with their employers for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.”

In 11 out of the 25 right-to-work states, Blacks account for a higher share of the state population than the national average (13.2 percent). Those states are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. African Americans are also more likely to live in RTW states than non-RTW states.

The EPI report said that Blacks account for 7.1 percent of workers in non-right-to-work states and 14 percent of workers in right to work states, compared to Whites who make up for 70.3 percent of workers in non-RTW states and 62.6 percent of workers in RTW states.

Opponents of right-to-work laws also argue that workers don’t need such laws to protect them from being forced to join unions because that’s already illegal.

In a blog post originally published in the New York Times, EPI senior economist Elise Gould wrote: “Right-to-work goes one step further and entitles employees to the benefits of a union contract – including the right to have the union take up their grievance if their employer abuses them – without paying any of the cost.”

That means that non-union members are entitled to help from unions when they run afoul of employers, even though they don’t support them by paying dues.

As union membership dips to historic lows, economists say that those RTW work laws have contributed to the decline of unions nationwide.

But when employees don’t have to contend with RTW laws, employers find ways to pay more.

“Average hourly wages, the primary variable of interest, are 15.8 percent higher in non-RTW states ($23.93 in non-RTW states versus $20.66 in RTW states),” stated the report.

Workers earn about $1,500 less per year in RTW states compared to non-RTW states and employees. “It’s abundantly clear that right-to-work laws are negatively correlated with workers’ wages,” said Gould.

And because Blacks lean on unions more to promote wage equality, their paychecks are also more dependent on strong unions.

According to a report on Black union membership by the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California at Berkeley, in the top 10 metropolitan areas, a higher concentration of Black workers participate in unions than Whites (16 percent for Black workers vs. 12.4 percent for White workers).

The report said that workers in non-RTW states are more than twice as likely to be in a union or protected by a union contract.

In an online blog post on collective bargaining Lawrence Mishel, the president of EPI and Lee Saunders, the president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the largest public service employee union in the U.S., said that, collective bargaining helps to reduce wage inequality and benefits the most for the lowest-wage workers.

“And it works to reduce other forms of inequality as well. African-American, Asian, Hispanic and immigrant workers who are union members are more likely to receive equitable pay,” the post read. “It also helps to close the wage gap between men and women.”

Mishel and Saunders wrote that even as Republican presidential primary candidates are positioning themselves as union busters, “growing support for collective bargaining combined with the pressing concerns middle-class voters feel every day when it comes to their wages that haven’t kept up with the cost of living,” should make them reconsider that stance.

EPI research assistant Will Kimball said that policymakers who are concerned by the three-and-a-half decades of wage stagnation that have plagued American workers should be trying to strengthen unions.

Kimball added: “Collective bargaining is a clear way to raise wages, and right to work laws undercut it.”