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July 8, 2014

This Fourth of July, let's celebrate the right to work

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Independence Day is my personal favorite holiday of the year, the day we celebrate our freedom from tyranny and oppression and the basic and self-evident right of American citizens to live free.

That isn’t the case in most other places in the world. Ronald Reagan put it best in his 1980 speech at the Republican National Convention: "It was divine providence that put America here as a beacon of freedom for the rest of the world."

Which is why Monday's Supreme Court decision on unions in Harris v. Quinn was so well timed. The court ruled that home care workers cannot be compelled to pay union dues to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) if they receive no benefit from the union.

It was a very limited restriction on union power, but it struck a blow for liberty nonetheless. This was NOT a union-busting ruling; it was a decision upholding the rights of individual workers to decide on membership and payment of dues for themselves.

That’s reason to light up some extra fireworks on Friday.

But shouldn't this fundamental right of workers to choose whether to join a union be extended to all workers in all states at all times? After all, the First Amendment guarantees the "right of association," which should also guarantee to individuals the right NOT to associate. This basic freedom was stripped away back in the 1930s, when the National Labor Relations Act allowed unions to compel membership of workers at a unionized work site.

But states are allowed to pass "right to work" laws protecting workers from having to join a union. Today, 22 states are RTW and about 28 states still force compulsory union membership at unionized shops. Guess what: Jobs and income flow heavily to the RTW states. For example, in my co-authored book, "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of States," we find that job growth over the last decade was three times higher in RTW states than in forced union states. And population growth over the last decade was 13 percent in RTW states versus only 6.5 percent in the rest.

Indiana and Michigan became right-to-work states in recent years, and both have seen healthy job growth above the national average since this freedom was extended to workers. Many businesses refuse to open up facilities in forced union states, as we saw first-hand when Boeing located a new plant out of its home state of Washington, a forced union state, to South Carolina, an RTW state.

Every state should enact a right-to-work law, for two reasons. First, it's good economics because it leads to more jobs and a better business environment. Our book finds that RTW is a leading reason (along with tax rates) why businesses are leaving the Northeast and Midwest for the South and the Southwest. 

But in the end, it’s not just about economics. It’s about the American ideal of freedom to choose to join or not to join a union. It is about whether a union should be able to withhold wages and salaries from workers’ paychecks against their will. It’s about whether workers should be forced to subsidize political views and candidates with whom they don’t agree or political activities that they find morally objectionable. 

The Supreme Court gave workers slightly more freedom on Monday. Here’s hoping that by next Fourth of July, workers will have all the freedoms our founders envisioned in 1776.

 - Stephen Moore is a Fox News contributor. He serves as chief economist at the Heritage Foundation.

Originally appeared in Fox News

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