‘Right to Work’ Makes Workplaces More Dangerous

“Right to work” laws make it easier for CEOs to cut back on health and safety protections for workers, increasing the burdens on working families.

Workers in right to work states also have lower wages and income, lower rates of health insurance coverage and higher poverty and infant mortality rates, and invest less in education.

Without workers standing together in union to oversee safety at the workplace, enforcement of safety and health laws will be weaker and workplaces will become more dangerous.

Right to Work Would Increase Job Fatalities and Injuries.

In 2019, 5,333 workers died on the job and millions of workers were seriously injured. Health care workers in hospitals and nursing homes who care for patients and the elderly suffer high rates of injury, as do warehouse workers and public employees like police and firefighters.

Workers in right to work states are in greater danger than other workers in the United States. Workers in states with right to work laws have a 37% higher risk of dying on the job than workers in states without these laws.

Right to Work Would Weaken Enforcement of Critical Safety and Health Protections.

Working people standing together in union ensure enforcement of safety standards that reduce workplace deaths and injuries, but right to work will weaken their ability to see that employers follow job safety laws.

Unions negotiate for safety standards and rights that are stronger than OSHA’s, and enforce these protections through their collective bargaining agreements.

Union contracts protect workers from retaliation for raising job safety concerns, and give workers the right to refuse unsafe work that poses danger to them and their co-workers. Unions provide training and education to workers about safety and health hazards.

And through workplace safety and health committees, union members help to identify hazardous conditions and work to get them corrected. It is well documented that union workplaces have much stronger enforcement of job safety laws than nonunion workplaces.

Unions help ensure safe and healthy working conditions for public employees.

Under current law, public employees in 24 states are afforded no safety and health coverage under OSHA, which makes unions even more vital in ensuring health and safety protections for workers.

More than 8 million public employees in the United States, including police, firefighters and health care workers, lack OSHA safety and health coverage on the job.

Union workplaces are safer than nonunion workplaces.

States with high union density are among the safest: 16 states rank in the top 20 in both union density and lowest rates of workplace fatalities.

States with higher union densities have significantly lower rates of construction fatalities. In the mining industry, unionized mines have made much greater progress in reducing serious injuries and fatalities than nonunion mines, and have lower rates of traumatic injuries and fatalities. This in-depth study of mine safety data found that the presence of a union was responsible for a 14% to 32% drop in traumatic injuries, and a 29% to 84% drop in fatalities from 1993–2010.

Government enforcement of job safety laws already is too weak.

There were only 1,767 inspectors in FY 2019 to inspect more than 9.9 million workplaces in the United States.

This leaves one inspector for every 83,207 workers, and gives OSHA the ability to inspect workplaces, on average, only once every 107 years.

Penalties for job safety and health violations are low. In FY 2019, the average federal penalty for a serious safety violation was only $3,717. The median federal penalty for killing a worker was only $9,282, too low to deter future violations and prevent injuries and deaths.

Right to work weakens working people’s freedom to join together in union, weakens safety enforcement and makes workplaces more dangerous.