The effects of right-to-work laws on levels of unionization, wages, and cost of living are still being debated. Opponents of the laws derisively term them “right-to-work for less” laws and point out that right-to-work states have lower levels of unionization and, consequently, lower average wages than non-right-to-work states.
Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act, passed in 1947 over the veto of President Harry Truman, enabled states to pass so-called “right-to-work” laws, which prohibit union security agreements, or “closed shops.” The laws vary widely from state to state, but generally they forbid companies and unions from agreeing to contracts that require workers to belong to a union as a provision of employment. As of 2004 twenty-two states, predominately in the Southeast and the West, had right-to-work laws.
South Carolina’s General Assembly passed such legislation in 1954 after more than a dozen other states had done so. While South Carolina had traditionally been viewed as an anti-union state, the state’s adoption of a right-to-work law was controversial. Spartanburg representative Raymond C. Eubanks, a railway conductor and representative of the Brother of Railway Trainmen, led a pro-union faction in the House in a fight against the law. In an eight-hour debate that featured a five-hour, twenty-five-minute filibuster by Eubanks and fifteen proposed amendments, the pro-union faction was unable to amend the bill or prevent its passage. An effort to repeal the law the next year also failed.
The effects of right-to-work laws on levels of unionization, wages, and cost of living are still being debated. Opponents of the laws derisively term them “right-to-work for less” laws and point out that right-to-work states have lower levels of unionization and, consequently, lower average wages than non-right-to-work states. Proponents maintain that right-to-work states have lower levels of unemployment and a lower cost of living that results in higher disposable income. Economic scholars have split along similar lines regarding the effects of right-to-work laws. Eager to bring new industries to the state, South Carolina business leaders frequently cite the law as an example of the state’s probusiness atmosphere when courting companies.
The law remained a subject of debate in the early twenty-first century. In 1997 lawmakers proposed strengthening the law by imposing stiffer penalties for offenders and offering the ability to sue to workers who feel unfairly pressured by unions. The law passed in 2002, prompting an unsuccessful attempt by pro-union lawmakers to repeal the law the following year.