Today, the senior U.S. senator from Tennessee has something in common with the governor of California. Back in 1979, both men served as chief executive of their respective states. That year, then-President James Earl “Jimmy” Carter exhorted them (as well as their colleagues in the remaining forty-eight states) to “go to Japan. Persuade them to make here what they sell here.”
The younger of the two, the Republican from the Volunteer State, did just that, meeting in Tokyo with “with Nissan executives who were deciding where to put their first U.S. manufacturing plant.” They chose his state, then a jurisdiction “with almost no auto jobs.” One reason they opted for Mr. Alexander’s home territory was “Tennessee has a right-to-work law” while neighboring Kentucky does not. Kentucky workers, like those in California, “would have to join the United Auto Workers union. Workers in Tennessee had a choice.”
Now, the Tennessean writes in the Wall Street Journal,
Nissan’s success is one reason why Volkswagen recently located in Chattanooga, and why Honda, Toyota, BMW, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and thousands of suppliers have chosen southeastern right-to-work states for their plants. Under right-to-work laws, employees may join unions, but mostly they have declined. Three times workers at the Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tenn., rejected organizing themselves like Saturn employees a few miles away.
Our goal should be to make it easier and cheaper to create private-sector jobs in this country. Giving workers the right to join or not to join a union helps to create a competitive environment in which more manufacturers like Nissan can make here 85% of what they sell here.
The latest figures show that unemployment in Tennessee is at 9.5%. In California, it’s at 12.3%. Maybe it’s time for the (once-)Golden State to take a lesson from its south-eastern counterpart and enact a right-to-work law. Such legislation might not only help create jobs in Jerry Brown’s neck of the woods, but might also help him hold down the cost of government. And California would start to regain its luster.