What do Right to Work Laws Prohibit

What do right to work laws prohibit? First, it would help to determine what “right-to-work” refers to. The ‘Right-to-Work’ Act of 1947 affirms the right of every U.S. workers to work for a living without 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. Introduction of ‘Right-to-Work’ with the enactment of Taft Hartley in 1947, created exception to the “union shops” rule, enabling individual states to prohibit union shops. 

'Right-to-Work' Laws

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 filing of 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 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' Laws Debunked

Opponents of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, argue that a Republican Congress controlled political decision, and ‘Right-to-Work’ laws were designed to curb union power in the labor market. The legislation provides that non-union workers not paying union dues would be subject to “agency fees” to incur full benefits of a union. Taft-Hartley clearly states, and court cases have confirmed, that non-union members can be compelled to pay only that portion of union dues that is attributable to the cost of representing employees in collective bargaining and providing the service that are given to union members.

Does My State Have ‘Right-to-Work’ Laws?

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

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

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.

Are 'Right to Work' States "Anti-Union"?

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 payment 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.

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 license, it is important to have knowledge of the differences between state rules when representing clients in a nationwide union affiliation matter.

Is Right to Work "Anti-Union"?

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

How Does Compulsory Unionism Affect Government Policy?

Compulsory unionism is illustrated in the U.S. Congressional Tax-and-Spend policies where federally-granted powers enable union officials to collect approximately $4.5 billion in compulsory dues per year. Much of this finance is channeled back to congressional representatives through the unreported campaign activities for control and election of majorities dedicated to increasing taxes, and government spending.

What is "Exclusive Representation"?

"Exclusive representation" is the privilege of unions to represent workers under U.S. federal law; empowering union officials in collective bargaining and representation of all workers in a company’s or other bargaining unit. 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, argue these advocates of ‘Right to Work’ policies, is 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 union dues for unwanted representation.

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

The specific rights of employees not covered by ‘Right-to-Work’ legislation in a few states is still present at the federal level by way of U.S. Supreme Court precedent reinforced by the courts. Employees can choose to become a member in a union, and union members can resign union membership. Non-members are obliged to pay for agent fees for amortized bargaining costs. Non-members may not be obliged to pay any fees not explained by the union. Workers with religious beliefs prohibiting membership and dues payment, have special protections under federal law.

Are There ‘Right-to-Work’ Impacts 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 states not integrating the federal legislation. Families in ‘Right-to-Work’ states, have more after-tax income and cash to spend than do their fellow citizens residing in states not enforcing the same laws. Economic benefits of ‘Right-to-Work’ are clear according to Department of Labor (DOL) statistics, which report stronger growth in the nonagricultural and manufacturing sectors, and lower unemployment rates with less frequent strikes by unions.

Right-to-Work Laws: Myth vs. Fact

Myth: ‘Right-to-work’ laws undermine unions.

Fact: ‘Right-to-work’ laws strengthen union locals, by reinforcing legitimate recruitment efforts and adequate representation, without coercion or forced payment of dues. 

Myth: Non-members cost unions.

Fact: Unions on average, spend little time and resources processing of grievances and negotiating contracts in general, and even less so for non-members. Employers are generally assigned these costs by union stewards, and as result, union locals spend little on worker representation of members, and non-members.

Myth: ‘Right-to-work’ laws provide no economic benefit.

Fact: Companies consider legal rules in selection of locate. Organizing victories generate settlements for unions located in jurisdictions with compulsory dues. To this end, about half of major businesses refuse to locate in those jurisdictions, thus limiting job growth according to economic development specialists.

Myth: ‘Right-to-work’ laws lower wages.

Fact: Workers in ‘right-to-work’ states have the same or higher spending power. However, wages in “right-to-work” states are slightly lower, yet reporting is skewed by lower cost of living and other variables, especially in the Southern states region.

Myth: ‘Right-to-work’ laws divides U.S. workers.

Fact: There is overwhelming support for ‘right-to-work’ law contract. 

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