Document Type

Honors Project - Open Access


Ryan Dodds

How do right-to-work (RTW) laws impact workplace safety?

RTW laws allow employees covered by a union who are not union members to choose not to pay union dues. These laws weaken unions and decrease unionization. This study explores the impact of right-to-work (RTW) laws on workplace safety using a two-way fixed effects and a difference-in-differences approach, focusing on the five right-to-work laws passed by states in the 2010s.

For my two-way fixed effects analysis, I construct a panel dataset from 2007-2019 using yearly state-level data from BLS for all 50 states with available data. My outcome variables are nonfatal occupational injury and illness rates and occupational fatality rates. I include state and year fixed effects with a large set of controls. I find that RTW laws reduce unionization and harm workplace safety. Specifically, I find that RTW laws decrease union coverage and membership by about 2.1% and 2.2%, respectively. I find that RTW laws increase occupational fatality rates by about 0.22 per 100,000 employees through decreasing unionization. This number is about 5% of the mean occupational fatality rate in my sample and suggests that right-to-work laws cost hundreds of lives each year. I also find, however, that right-to-work laws decrease the rate of reported nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses by about 6%, and I am able to replicate this finding when looking at specific industries. I find that this decrease is likely being driven by increased reporting in unionized workplaces rather than a true improvement in workplace safety.

Honors Project in Economics

Advisor: Professor Gary Krueger

April 30, 2023

RDoddsHonorsData.dta (323 kB)
2007-2019 State panel dataset

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Economics Commons



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