Is South Carolina Really a “Right to Work State”?


This week is National Employee Freedom week – a week intended to bring attention to the fact that people across the U.S. aren’t allowed to decide whether they want to be union members or not. That decision is made for them; whether union membership is or isn’t beneficial to them and their families is irrelevant.

In South Carolina union membership cannot be required, and unions are therefore not powerful in the state. But unions aren’t the only ones to compromise Americans’ right to work and do business in the absence of arbitrary coercion.

South Carolina state government has 43 licensing boards, ranging from the Barber Examiner Board to the Funeral Services Board. In our Code of Laws 62 chapters are dedicated to regulations (that doesn’t include another 100 dealing with the licensing boards). In an in-depth study examining Occupational licensing across the U.S., the Institute for Justice ranked South Carolina the 10th most extensively and onerously licensed state in the nation.

How did the state end up this way? Part of the answer is that the state legislature has over time created a culture similar to that of a union. Lawmakers use their positions to pass laws inoculating their own businesses from competition. Three examples:

Rep. Kit Spires is a licensed pharmacist and a pharmacy owner.  A review by The Nerve found that seven out of 22 laws that Spires sponsored in his career as a legislator were related to the pharmacy industry.  During the 2013 session he sponsored a bill, H.3161, which regulated pharmaceutical compounding (the mixing and making of drugs by a pharmacist). One of the new regulations found in that law is that all “significant” procedures have to be covered by written policies and procedures. This adds a tremendous cost to new pharmacy owners, especially because what is considered significant is not spelled out, forcing pharmacy owners to err on the side of caution and write everything out due to fear of regulators.

Rep. John King is a bail bondsman. This session he sponsored three bills regulating bail bondsmen. One of them, H.3135, puts the profession of bail bondsmen under the Labor, Licensing and Regulation Board, opening it up to various new regulations. That’s in addition to current regulations such as mandatory yearly payments of $150 to the county clerk and 60 hours of coursework in order to become a licensed bail bondsman. All these licensing requirements make it difficult for new bail bondsmen to join the industry.

Rep. Bill Sandifer is a licensed funeral director and embalmer; he also is the chairman of the House Labor, Commerce, and Industry Committee. Since 2002 eight of the ten bills he sponsored in relation to regulating funeral pre-planning have become law, as reported by The Nerve. These regulations have stifled both newcomers from entering the market and innovation in this industry. One example: a man tried to sell caskets for $300, a vastly cheaper rate than that of his competitors, but faced a $10,000 fine because he didn’t have a license.
But lawmakers haven’t just used their authority to limit competition; they’ve also created a culture of regulation. South Carolina’s legislative session is among the longest in the nation, and its length allows lawmakers ample time to consult with lobbyists and other industry representatives to prop up more and more regulatory barriers. New businesses can’t start and thrive in an environment like this; they are either discouraged altogether from starting, or are too busy wading through the endless stream of regulations and licensing laws to apply their efforts and imaginations to the chief task – making a better product or providing a better service.

This is South Carolina’s “union” – a system in which passing new and onerous regulations is the norm, and a system in which legislators pass laws aimed at limiting competition to their own businesses. By not requiring legislators to report their private income and by giving them (in practice) more than half the year to think of creative ways to trammel the private sector for their own benefit, South Carolina citizens effectively enable a culture of regulation that is at least as burdensome, if indeed not more burdensome, than the legalization of labor unions would be.

So while it’s true that unions in South Carolina may not have the force they do in other states, South Carolina does have one powerful union. Happy National Employee Freedom Week.

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