Since early September, the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been speaking out about an important difference between the labor policies of his country and the U.S. and the impact this difference has on our northern neighbor's workers and businesses.
Canadian labor laws promote compulsory union dues as a condition of employment. In the U.S., 28 of the 50 states have adopted right-to-work laws, protecting the individual employee's freedom to get and hold a job without being forced to join or bankroll an unwanted union. U.S. federal policy explicitly permits such state laws.
As the Toronto Globe and Mail reported last month, the Trudeau government strongly believes that voluntary unionism gives the U.S. an "advantage" over Canada "in attracting jobs."
Normally, any powerful elected official who made such a claim would be denounced and ridiculed by union officials. But Trudeau wants to "fix" the U.S.'s right-to-work advantage by eliminating all state right-to-work laws rather than by prohibiting forced unionism in his own country. Consequently, Trudeau is now being hailed as a hero by union bosses such as Jerry Dias, the president of Unifor, a Canadian union conglomerate.
Union-label Canadian politicians' improbable vehicle for destroying the right to work is the ongoing renegotiation of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.
Dias encouraged the Trudeau government to demand that Congress and President Trump agree to rubber-stamp a federal law overturning all state right-to-work protections for private-sector employees as a precondition for Canada to remain at the NAFTA negotiating table.
Always eager to please Big Labor, the Trudeau administration has challenged Washington to ban right-to-work laws as part of any revamped NAFTA deal. U.S. union bosses are thrilled. Just last week, U.S. Teamster czar Jim Hoffa publicly commended the Trudeau government's stance, declaring: "We agree that ... [U.S. right-to-work] laws incentivize employers to relocate from Canadian provinces."
Of course, Trump campaigned and won on a pro-right-to-work platform. He knows it would be political suicide to go along with the Trudeau team's demand. Therefore, it is virtually certain no policy change will come of it. But the American union bosses' enthusiastic reaction to the Dias ploy is nevertheless telling. They're admitting that forced unionism costs Canada jobs.
Now, U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, are vowing to "level the playing field" between Canada and the U.S. by pushing for enactment of legislation that would gut all state right-to-work laws by repealing Section 14(b) of the federal Taft-Hartley Act. This means that the right to work's supporters and foes alike now agree on the point that voluntary unionism attracts job creators.
The question Dias, Hoffa, Warren, Brown and others fail to answer satisfactorily is why businesses prefer to hire in right-to-work states. The preference plainly has nothing to do with workers' real purchasing power. The fact is, U.S. Commerce Department data, adjusted for regional cost-of-living differences according to an index calculated by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, show that in 2016 the average annual compensation per right-to-work state manufacturing employee was $77,691. That's more than $4,100 higher than the average for states that still lacked right-to-work protections in 2016.
Moreover, according to the latest available data from Canada's Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, the average annual wages for employees in Canada, converted into U.S. dollars and adjusting for purchasing power parity, are $11,800 lower than the average for the U.S. as a whole.
One major hindrance to job creation and retention in Canada and forced-unionism states like Illinois and New Jersey are counterproductive work rules imposed and perpetuated for decades by Big Labor bosses wielding monopoly bargaining privileges. In industry after industry, union bosses have negotiated contracts requiring rigid job classifications that waste time and money, ultimately to the detriment of workers' paychecks and job security.
And making states that have enacted right-to-work laws "share the pain" would actually do little to help beleaguered employees in Canada and the remaining forced-unionism states. If Trudeau and the American politicians backing Big Labor got their way, good jobs would simply go overseas.
Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Committee.
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