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'Right-to-work' Laws and Economic Development in Oklahoma

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In September 2001, Oklahoma will hold a referendum on whether to adopt so-called "right-to-work" legislation that would outlaw certain provisions in collective bargaining agreements. It has not been since the 1950s that most states have had to face a right-to-work referendum such as the one slated in Oklahoma, consequently rekindling a seemingly dead debate over the effectiveness of such laws.

One of the key issues in this debate is whether being a right-to-work state is important to Oklahoma's economic development. That Oklahoma would consider adopting right-to-work provisions at this point in time is especially surprising given that the state's unemployment rate in 2000 was just 3.0%, far below that of the nation and nearly every state in its region. Moreover, there is no strong evidence that right-to-work laws have any positive impact on economic development. There is strong evidence that these laws are actually associated with lower wages.

In order to make an informed contribution to the public debate currently underway in Oklahoma, the Economic Policy Institute asked a number of economic development experts whether they thought a right-to-work law would be an important or useful economic development tool for Oklahoma. We have included these experts' opinions here, all of whom believe, for various reasons, that right-to-work legislation would not represent a worthwhile economic development policy for Oklahoma.