Updated October

Right to Work States

Right to work states are states that have implemented the right to work law. The Taft-Hartley Act amended the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, otherwise known as the Wagner Act, did away with the “closed shop” era in U.S. history. The reform of the earlier legislation was the outcome of employee complaints about union shop rules as a criterion for employment. Taft-Hartley further stipulates that the union be obligated to provide non-members’ with the benefits of union membership, despite their election to refuse membership. Non-member employees subject to wrongful termination, are protected by union obligation to represent the rights of that employee that same as a union member, in the filing of a complaint. Moreover, non-union members can sue the union for failure to successfully prosecute a case on their behalf.

‘Right-to-Work’ laws cover all workers, regardless of non-union member refusal to pay fees normally associated with membership rights to collective workplace bargaining. The rationale for this universal protection of workers’ rights with the union, is that compulsory unionism in any form–"union," "closed," or "agency" shop–is considered a contradiction of the terms to the Right to Work principle; a fundamental human right.  Compulsory union membership is also contrary to the U.S. concept of individual rights and freedom of association. Finally, it is thought that compulsory unionism promotes large labor organizations toward the exertion of excessive power in the workplace and in the political arena. This latter point brings up the historical convergence of the state with union “labor bosses” in cities where large union affiliations have turned into syndicated organized crime networks with extraordinary power over the ‘Right-to-Work’ and attendant economic and social consequences for workers and their families.

Organized labor proponents suggest that ‘Right-to-Work’ laws support free riders at the expense of participatory governance by fellow workers and that all workers should be obliged to pay a proportionate share of the costs of the union negotiation of contract benefits for the common good. Contrary to the legal opinion, unions also maintain that the laws are the impetus to dissension among workers, weakening the labor movement to their disadvantage politically and economically. These topics were the focus of state consideration in the 1950s when most states incorporated federal ‘Right-to-Work’ legislation as state law.

‘Right-to-Work’ Act of 1947 affirms that every U.S. worker has the right to work without a compulsory obligation to join a union. The law provides that employees can receive the benefits of the union contract without paying a share of dues and fees to the union. Although ‘Right-to-Work’ laws have been incorporated into state employment laws, the legislation varies. The rule allows for workers to join a union “at-will”, and prohibits employers from forcing compulsory union membership as a term or condition of employment. The act also allows for “union shops;” workplace coordinated groups mandating employees to a union within a specified time-frame on hire as provided for under earlier legislation of the Wagner Act of 1935. The introduction of ‘Right-to-Work’ with the enactment of Taft Hartley in 1947, created an exception to the “union shops” rule, enabling individual states to prohibit union shops. 

The National Right to Work Committee and National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation are separate legal organizations with complementary agendas. Established in 1995, the National Right to Work Committee is a national organization dedicated to the public education and eradication of coerced unionism through lobbying in Congress and the state legislatures. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation works solely through the courts, assisting employees with human rights or civil rights claims of abuses by employers, employees, and union member acts of compulsory unionism.

Is Right to Work "Anti-Union"?

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is not an "anti-union" or "pro-union” instance but focused on the perpetuation of individual freedom to work. The Foundation is committed to the right of all U.S. workers to be free of compulsory unionism abuses.

While some labor groups and employment rights groups are opposed to ‘Right-to-Work’ laws, workers’ right to elect union membership is valid. Coercion is not a “right” and therefore, compulsory union membership considered to be a violation of constitutional rules, despite concerns about free riders. ‘Right-to-Work’ state legislation is meant to protect the worker from coercion, while mandating “agency fees” in most cases to cover non-member obligation to pay for benefits such as on the job protections and higher wages, without assent to fee agreement as a “member” part of union collective bargaining activities.

How Compulsory Unionism Affects Government Policy

In government policy, the Tax-and-Spend rules of the U.S. Congress are granted coercive powers to collect a proximate $4.5 billion in compulsory dues per year. Much of those monies are channeled into unrestricted campaign activities associated with the control and the election of congressional majorities who are in turn, committed to increasing taxes, as well as government spending.

Exclusive Representation Defined

"Exclusive representation" is the sole privilege of unions to represent workers under federal law; empowering union officials in collective bargaining and representation of all workers in a company’s or other bargaining units. Where ‘Right-to-Work’ laws do not apply, "compulsory union representation" is possible. States allowing for compulsory union representation, say, proponents of ‘Right-to-Work’ legislation, deprive workers of their rights. The right to bargain independently, suggests these advocates of ‘Right to Work’ policies, is, in fact, a fundamental constitutional right. Union officials demanding exclusive representation of all workers in a jurisdiction may exceed their bargaining rights, forcing employees of certain industries to pay dues for representation they do not want.

What Rights do Employees in Non-Right to Work States Have?

There are specific employment rights not addressed by federal ‘Right-to-Work’ legislation. In some states, it has been established that the precedent of U.S. Supreme Court rulings applies to workplace rules to unionization. Employees can elect to join a union, and union members can resign union membership. Non-members are only obliged to pay proportionate agent fees for amortized by bargaining costs. Non-members may not be obliged to pay fees where those dues have not been articulated by the union. Workers with religious beliefs preventing membership and payment of union dues, have rights to protection under the law.

What Effect Does a Right to Work Law Have on a State’s Standard of Living?

The National Right to Work Committee reports that ‘Right-to-Work’ states have a better standard of living than those not incorporating this aspect of federal legislation. Families in ‘Right-to-Work’ states have higher after-tax income and spending capacity than do their counterparts in states not recognizing the same rules. Economic vitality reflects the benefit of ‘Right-to-Work’ states, according to the Department of Labor statistics, reporting higher growth in the manufacturing and the nonagricultural sectors, with lower unemployment rates and fewer strikes due to union disagreements.

Who is Covered Under 'Right-to-Work' Laws?"

‘Right to work’ rules vary by state and cover employees of private employers. Exempted are most federal employees, and airline and railroad industry workers.

Where can I Expect to Encounter ‘Right-to-Work’ Laws in the Workplace?

Workers encounter ‘Right-to-Work’ laws when being hired for a job; contacted by a union organizer; organizing a union or negotiating union contract, or; union dues are deducted from a paycheck.

  • When Being Hired for a Job – job candidates are covered under a union contract without paying union dues in ‘Right-to-Work’ law states.
  • When Being Contacted by a Union Organizer –legal right to refuse to join a union or pay membership dues on contact by a union organizer.
  • When Trying to Organize a Union or Negotiate a Union Contract – negotiating union contracts, or organizing a union itself, without paying dues.
  • When Union Dues Are Deducted from a Paycheck – if covered under union contract in a ‘Right-to-Work’ state, dues are not mandatory. If never a union member, an employer and union must re-compensate those missing funds. Former union members have the right to resign membership and payment of dues. Depending on the state and the membership agreement, however, some fees may apply after membership resignation.

What if I’m an Employment/Labor Attorney in a ‘Right-to-Work’ State?

Attorneys specializing in employment law in ‘Right-to-Work’ states may be involved in both, or either private-sector or public-sector worker claims. If filing a claim in a state where there is reciprocity outside of the state jurisdiction of the license, it is important to have knowledge of the differences between state rules when representing clients in a nationwide union affiliation matter.

Arizona's Constitution, Article XXV

Arizona State is an example of a ‘Right-to-Work’ state. The Arizona State Constitution, Article XXV articulates that workers in the state have a "right to work or employment without membership in labor organization”. The Constitution further provides, that “no person shall be denied” the opportunity of employment due to any sort of union labor restrictions. Non-membership in a labor organization is protected under State law. Nor may the State or any jurisdiction, leader, corporation, or association of any kind enter into any contractual agreement that is written or oral, with a term or condition of exclusion of any individual person from employment, or retention in employment, because of non-membership in a labor union.

Right-to-Work States

The 28 states having ‘Right-to-Work’ laws include Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. West Virginia legislation is pending.

State Legislative Action

In 2012, 19 state congresses reviewed ‘Right-to-Work’ legislation. As result, ‘Right-to-Work’ laws were passed in four (4) states, two (2) of which either established or expanded existing legal protections for workers, and two (2) of which added enforcement or notice provisions to current ‘Right-to-Work’ legislation. Michigan became a ‘Right-to-Work’ state, and Indiana expanded its provisions to cover all private sector employment, and not solely school employees as considered on previous state law. The U.S. Congress reformed ‘Right-to-Work” legislation at the federal level in 2013. ‘Right-to-Work’ legislation was enacted in 21 states, including the District of Columbia during the same legislative session. Tennessee passed a law prohibiting waiver of rights to become a member or join a union.

Since the 1940s, 28 states have legislated ‘Right-to-Work’ laws. ‘Right-to-Work’ bills were introduced in 20 states during the 2014 legislative session, and no additional states became ‘Right-to-Work’ states. Tennessee reformed those rules to the ‘Right-to-Work’ statute adopted by the state in 1947. The 2014 Tennessee law prohibits any unit of government from enacting ordinances or regulations infringing on rights guaranteed under the National Labor Relations Act. This includes provisions related to collective bargaining by unions in that state. In 2015, Wisconsin became the 25th ‘Right-to-Work’ state, with a bill that put into effect March 9, 2015.

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