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Does ‘right to work’ imperil the right to health? The effect of labour unions on workplace fatalities
  1. Michael Zoorob
  1. Department of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Michael Zoorob, Department of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA; mzoorob{at}g.harvard.edu

Abstract

Objective Economic policies can have unintended consequences on population health. In recent years, many states in the USA have passed ‘right to work’ (RTW) laws which weaken labour unions. The effect of these laws on occupational health remains unexplored. This study fills this gap by analysing the effect of RTW on occupational fatalities through its effect on unionisation.

Methods Two-way fixed effects regression models are used to estimate the effect of unionisation on occupational mortality per 100 000 workers, controlling for state policy liberalism and workforce composition over the period 1992–2016. In the final specification, RTW laws are used as an instrument for unionisation to recover causal effects.

Results The Local Average Treatment Effect of a 1% decline in unionisation attributable to RTW is about a 5% increase in the rate of occupational fatalities. In total, RTW laws have led to a 14.2% increase in occupational mortality through decreased unionisation.

Conclusion These findings illustrate and quantify the protective effect of unions on workers’ safety. Policymakers should consider the potentially deleterious effects of anti-union legislation on occupational health.

  • right-to-work
  • unionization
  • difference-in-differences
  • occupational fatalities
  • workplace safety

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Footnotes

  • Funding The author has not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Replication data and code producing all analyses in the article are freely available from the Harvard Dataverse. The author recommends searching for the article name and "Replication Data" to find these materials or by emailing the author.

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