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Researcher finds right-to-work laws also jeopardize workers safety on the job

05.06.11

MAY 2011, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Researcher finds right-to-work laws also jeopardize workers safety on the job

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

LEHIGH VALLEY, April 14th- According to a University of Michigan researcher, right-to-work laws not only hurt labor unions financially, they also jeopardize worker safety.

Right-to-work laws are found predominantly in the southern and western United States but recently the legislation has become an issue because former Lehigh Valley House of Representative and current United States Republican Senator from Pennsylvania Pat Tooney announced he supports passage of national right-to-work legislation.

Right-to-work legislation would prohibit contract language in labor agreements that makes joining a union a condition of employment. Often, after an employee serves a probationary period usually between 30 and 90 days, the employee must join the union or be dismissed.

There are 22 states that prohibit any contract language that forces union membership as a condition of employment.

New research by Richard Zullo of the University of Michigan Institute for Research of Labor, Employment and Economy shows that right-to-work laws result in the underfunding of safety training and accident-prevention activities.

“Several states are currently considering adopting right-to-work laws, (including Pennsylvania) but passing these laws may have the unintended consequence of elevating workplace fatalities. States attempting to reduce worker fatalities should consider encouraging trade union growth and repealing right-to-work laws,” stated Mr. Zullo.

Mr. Zullo explained that right-to-work laws enable workers at union companies to forgo paying union dues if they object. These workers, however, still enjoy the same benefits and protections that dues-paying members receive.

Mr. Zullo examined construction industry and occupation fatality rates in all 50 states and the District of Columbia from 2001 to 2009. Industry fatality rates include people who are not usually members of the building trades, such as drivers, while occupational fatality rates include people in the building trades who are not employed in the construction industry, for example in local government.

He found that the rate of industry fatalities is 40 percent higher and the rate of occupational fatalities is 34 percent greater in right-to-work states. Mr. Zullo acknowledges that these numbers alone fall short of testing whether right-to-work laws are responsible for the relatively high fatality rates.

Using statistical analysis, Mr. Zullo tested whether state-level unionization is related to industry or occupational fatality rates and if so the extent to which the association between unionization and fatalities relate to right-to-work laws.

According to the results higher union density in a state equals higher worker safety, a finding consistent with the view that unions act to protect member safety. A 1 percent increase in union density equates with a 0.12 percent decline in the industry fatality ratio and a 0.22 percent decline in the ratio of occupation fatalities.

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