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On Labor Day in 1941, a Dallas editor coined the term ‘right to work’ – the ‘legal heritage of the free citizen’ – Publications – AEI

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AEI On Labor Day in 1941, a Dallas editor coined the term ‘right to work’ – the ‘legal heritage of the free citizen’ Seventy-eight years ago on Labor Day in 1941, Dallas Morning News associate editor William Ruggles (pictured above) wrote an editorial that set an important economic movement in motion – the “right to work.” Ruggles later said in a 1956 speech that he “felt in every fiber of his being” that the right to work was the “legal heritage of the free citizen” and he therefore strongly opposed forced union membership. In his September 1, 1941 editorial, Ruggles proposed that a 22nd amendment to the US Constitution be passed to guarantee American workers the right to work with or without union membership. Here is a key paragraph from Ruggles’ 1941 Labor Day editorial: Now this

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On Labor Day in 1941, a Dallas editor coined the term ‘right to work’ – the ‘legal heritage of the free citizen’

On Labor Day in 1941, a Dallas editor coined the term ‘right to work’ – the ‘legal heritage of the free citizen’ - Publications – AEI
Seventy-eight years ago on Labor Day in 1941, Dallas Morning News associate editor William Ruggles (pictured above) wrote an editorial that set an important economic movement in motion – the “right to work.” Ruggles later said in a 1956 speech that he “felt in every fiber of his being” that the right to work was the “legal heritage of the free citizen” and he therefore strongly opposed forced union membership. In his September 1, 1941 editorial, Ruggles proposed that a 22nd amendment to the US Constitution be passed to guarantee American workers the right to work with or without union membership.

Here is a key paragraph from Ruggles’ 1941 Labor Day editorial:

Now this country may wish to become a vast network of union labor. If so, it is within the rights of a democracy to so decide. But the greatest crisis that confronts the nation today is the domestic issue of the right to work as a member of a labor union, if the individual wishes, or without membership in a union if he so elects. It is a greater crisis than the international situation, for on its solution may depend our ability to face the dark international future.

In his editorial, Ruggles coined a phrase that would “change the labor landscape in America,” according to a story in the Dallas Morning News about Ruggles in 2010 as part of its 125th anniversary celebration.

Here are some excerpts from that article:

“The answer seemed to me to be an amendment to the federal Constitution that would be so clear and unequivocal that no jurist could argue against its meaning,” William Ruggles said later.

Although that constitutional guarantee never materialized, 22 states [now 27] enacted legislation patterned after the Ruggles editorial. Texas passed its right-to-work law in 1947. These laws prohibit agreements between trade unions and employers that make membership and payment of union dues or fees a requirement of employment even if the company is operating under union-negotiated bargaining agreements.

Love them or hate them, economists, historians and lawyers agree that right-to-work laws were the leading factor in the Sun Belt’s success. “Economic growth in places like Georgia and Texas was driven by the combination of the right to work and the cost of labor,” says Al Niemi, dean of the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University. “Since the right to work dictated the cost of labor, right to work was the single most important driver.”

Related: In a recent CD post I featured an animated “bar chart race” visualization of US state employment growth from January 1990 to June 2019, and made the following observation:

Over the entire period, right-to-work states represented the top four US states for employment growth (Nevada +134%, Utah +118%, Idaho +100% and Arizona +98.7%), seven of the top eight states (the four states above plus Texas +82%, Florida +68% and North Dakota +66%), and 14 of the top 20 states. In contrast (although not shown in the visualization), all ten of the US states with the weakest employment gains since 1990 were forced unionism states (over most of the period): Connecticut (weakest job growth at only 2.5%), Rhode Island +9%, New Jersey +14%, Michigan* +14%, Ohio +15.5%, Maine +16%, Pennsylvania 16.5%, Illinois +17.5%, New York +18%, and Massachusetts +21%. Of the 20 US states with the weakest job growth since 1990, 15 of those 20 were forced unionism states (the exceptions were West Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Iowa).

*Michigan became a right-to-work state in 2013.

On Labor Day in 1941, a Dallas editor coined the term ‘right to work’ – the ‘legal heritage of the free citizen’
Mark Perry

Mark Perry
Mark J. Perry is concurrently a scholar at AEI and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus. He is best known as the creator and editor of the popular economics blog Carpe Diem. At AEI, Perry writes about economic and financial issues for American.com and the AEIdeas blog.

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