- Right-to-work laws
- How do right-to-work laws work?
- State laws
- Wagner Act
- National Labor Relations Board
- Supreme Court case
- Taft-Hartley Act
- Union membership
- External links
- Right to Work Laws
- I’ve heard that my state has a ‘Right-to-Work’ law. What does that mean?
- Does my state have ‘Right-to-Work’ laws?
- Where can I expect to encounter ‘Right-to-Work’ laws in the workplace?
- Are 'Right to Work' states “Anti-Union”?
- What if I’m an employment/labor attorney in a ‘Right-to-Work’ state?
Right-to-work laws are pieces of legislation that guarantee that no employee can be required to join, or not join, a union, or be required to pay dues to a labor union as a condition of employment. Right-to-work laws also prohibit labor unions and employers from entering into contracts that only employ unionized workers for the jobs under the contract.
How do right-to-work laws work?
The main priority of right-to-work laws is to separate employment status from membership, or non-membership, in a labor union or the payment, or non-payment, of dues to a union.
Under federal law provided by the Taft-Hartley Act, all workers have a right to not belong to a union and to be provided with the benefits of union membership, such as collective bargaining, even if a worker is not a union member.
However, in order to offset costs, the Taft-Hartley Act requires non-members to pay agency fees, which are a portion of union dues that are used only for providing services to employees, rather than full dues, which support the political activities of a union as well.
State right-to-work laws exist because the Taft-Hartley Act also allows states to eliminate agency fees for non-union members. Therefore, states that have their own right-to-work laws allow all employees to be involved in collective bargaining or receive union legal representation without paying union dues or agency fees.
Proponents argue that right-to-work laws do the following:
- Protect workers' rights
- Protect against sudden wage cuts, layoffs or firings
- Provide an avenue to force employers to change dangerous work practices or overly long hours
- Provide choice about whether to pay union dues
- Create a business-friendly atmosphere
- Entice employers to move to states with such laws
Opponents to right-to-work laws argue that such laws do the following:
- Create a free-rider problem in workplaces where not every employee pays union dues yet all employees receive union benefits
- Limit the ability of a business to compete by hampering the ability to make wage cuts, extend or decrease hours, and hire or fire employees
As of August 8, 2018, 27 states had right-to-work laws in place (see the map below). The majority of right-to-work laws were passed by states between 1944 and 1958, although some were passed after 2010.
Arkansas and Florida were the first states to pass right-to-work laws, when voters approved related constitutional amendments in 1944. Arizona and Nebraska followed suit in 1946, with two more constitutional amendments approved by voters.
In 1947, seven states approved right-to-work laws (Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Iowa, Texas and South Dakota) and all but one were put into place by state statute; in South Dakota voters approved a constitutional amendment.
North Dakota rounded out the decade, passing a statute in 1948.
In the 1950s, half as many right-to-work laws were passed compared to the prior decade. Nevada voters approved a statute in 1952, followed by statutes in Alabama (1953), Mississippi (1954), South Carolina (1954) and Utah (1955). A constitutional amendment was approved in Kansas in 1958.
Four new laws passed between 1960 and 2000. Mississippi passed a constitutional amendment after having passed a statute in 1954. Wyoming, Louisiana and Idaho passed statutes in 1963, 1976 and 1985, respectively.
Since 2001, six states have adopted right-to-work laws. In 2001, Oklahoma voters approved a constitutional amendment. Most recently, three traditionally union-friendly states in the “Rust Belt” have signed right-to-work statutes into law. In 2012, Gov.
Mitch Daniels of Indiana signed right-to-work legislation after it passed the state senate. Later that year, the Michigan State Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder passed and signed right-to-work legislation that went into effect early in 2013. Right-to-work legislation was later signed into law by Gov.
Scott Walker in Wisconsin in March 2015.
In February 2016, West Virginia passed a right-to-work law that was challenged in court. In November 2016, Alabama passed a constitutional right-to-work amendment. In January 2017, Kentucky passed a similar law after Republicans gained a trifecta, holding majorities in both chambers of the legislature and holding the governorship.
 In February 2017, Missouri passed a right-to-work law scheduled to take effect in August 2017. The law was held in abeyance pending a veto referendum.
On November 22, 2017, the veto referendum was certified for the ballot, meaning it was put on hold pending the outcome of the veto referendum election on August 7, 2018. Voters rejected the referendum, thus repealing the right-to-work law. Missouri became the first state to repeal a right-to-work law.
The National Labor Relations Act, more commonly known as the Wagner Act, is a federal piece of labor legislation that was sponsored by Robert F. Wagner, a Democratic senator from New York, and was introduced to the Senate in February 1935. The purpose of the act was two-fold.
The first objective was to protect the right of employees to participate in labor organizations, collective bargaining and activities related to mutual aid and protection of employees. Second, the act created the National Labor Relations Board.
The bill was passed by the Senate in May 1935 and by the House in June and was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt on July 5, 1935.
National Labor Relations Board seal
National Labor Relations Board
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which still exists, originally comprised three members appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
The NLRB was designed to decide, upon employee petition, if an appropriate bargaining unit of employees exists for collective bargaining, for conducting secret-ballot elections and determining whether employees in a business or industry want to be represented by a union, and for preventing or remedying unfair labor practices by employers or unions. The NLRB also hears and resolves labor disputes, investigates and prosecutes complaints, and oversees cases in NLRB field offices. The board has no independent power and relies on U.S. courts of appeal to enforce its decisions. In addition, all cases, charges and petitions for representation must be initiated by employers, individuals or unions. The membership of the NLRB has increased to five members, who are still appointed by the president and are assisted by 33 regional directors.
Supreme Court case
In 1937, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the constitutionality of the Wagner Act in NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. The NLRB had found that Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp.
was engaging in unfair labor practices by firing employees involved in union activity and ordered Jones & Laughlin to cease its discriminatory practices.
The company refused to comply with the order, claiming the actions of the NLRB were unconstitutional because the steel plants were manufacturing plants and did not participate in interstate commerce. A court of appeals ruled in favor of Jones & Laughlin, a decision subsequently appealed to the U.S.
Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled against the court of appeals, stating that the steel corporation did significant business outside the state of Pennsylvania and was therefore subject to regulation of interstate commerce by Congress and the NLRB.
The Taft-Hartley Act, also known as the Labor–Management Relations Act, amended several aspects of the Wagner Act. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio and Rep. Fred A. Hartley of New Jersey, and it was passed in spite of a veto by President Harry S. Truman.
Since passage of the Wagner Act, the U.S. experienced major growth in union membership, several large strikes and a fear of Communist infiltration of labor unions.
These factors helped create an increasingly anti-union environment and led both Republican-controlled houses of Congress to make changes in the labor laws.
The Taft-Hartley Act guaranteed the right of employees to not join unions as a condition of employment by outlawing “closed shop” agreements, permitted union shops only where allowed by state law and where a majority of workers voted for them, required a 60-day advance notice of a strike, narrowed and specified unfair union practices, restricted political contributions made by unions and required union officers to swear an oath denying Communist affiliations. However, the bill also allowed employers to sign a union shop agreement that could require employees to join a union on, or after, the 30th day of employment.
The act also prohibited secondary boycotts by making it illegal for a union with an employer dispute to pressure another employer to stop doing business with the first employer. The law prohibited unions from charging excessive dues or fees and from “featherbedding,” or forcing employers to pay for work not actually performed.
In addition, the law provided for new types of union elections that allowed employers faced with a union's demand for recognition to seek an NLRB-conducted election, and it enabled employees to obtain elections to determine whether to get rid of incumbent unions, whether to grant unions the authority to enter into a union shop agreement, or whether to withdraw previously granted union shop authorization.
Union membership was at its peak in 1954, when 34.8 percent of all workers belonged to a union, but membership has significantly declined during the past several decades. In 1983, the rate had dropped to 20.1 percent, and it fell to 11.1 percent in 2014.
In 1964, only one state, South Carolina, had a union membership rate of less than 10 percent, while three states had membership rates of more than 40 percent (Washington, Michigan and Indiana). As of 2014, nearly half the states had union membership rates below 10 percent.
Alaska, Hawaii and New York are the only states with union memberships of more than 20 percent. From 2000 to 2014, several industry sectors saw substantial decreases in union membership.
The job categories of installation, maintenance and repair; production; construction and extraction; and transportation and material moving saw the largest decreases.
A Gallup poll conducted in 2014 indicated that 53 percent of Americans approve of labor unions, while 38 percent disapprove of them.
When asked if they would vote in favor of a right-to-work law if given the opportunity, 71 percent of Americans said that they would vote for a right-to-work law, while only 22 percent of Americans would vote against such a law.
In 1957, 62 percent of Americans said they would vote for a right-to-work law, while 27 percent said they would vote against such a law. In the 1950s, union approval reached 75 percent, and disapproval was as low as 14 percent.
- NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, “Right to Work Frequently Asked Questions,” accessed October 23, 2015
- ↑ 2.0 2.
1 Workplace Fairness, “Right to Work Laws,” accessed December 30, 2015
- ↑ Forbes, “'Right-to-Work' Laws Explained, Debunked And Demystified,” December 11, 2012
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 Vox, “Right-to-work: the anti-union laws now on the books in 25 states,” March 9, 2015
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 G. William Domhoff, “The Rise and Fall of Labor Unions In The U.S.
,” accessed November 10, 2015
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.
4 National Right to Work Committee, “State Right to Work Timeline,” accessed November 10, 2015
- ↑ New York Times, “Indiana Governor Signs a Law Creating a 'Right to Work' State,” February 1, 2012
- ↑ Huffington Post, “Michigan Right-to-Work Bill Approved by Republican-Dominated House,” December 11, 2012
- ↑ New York Times, “Unions Suffer Latest Defeat in Midwest With Signing of Wisconsin Measure,” March 9, 2015
- ↑ WSAZ, “Preliminary injunction halts 'Right-to-Work' law throughout West Virginia,” August 11, 2016
- ↑ Alabama Legislature, “HB 37,” accessed March 19, 2016
- ↑ WFPL, “Kentucky Is The 27th ‘Right-To-Work’ State. Now What?” January 13, 2017
- ↑ The Kansas City Star, “Gov. Eric Greitens signs Missouri right-to-work bill, but unions file referendum to overturn it,” February 6, 2017
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 14.2 Our Documents, “National Labor Relations Act (1935),” accessed October 29, 2015
- ↑ National Labor Relations Board, “The 1935 passage of the Wagner Act,” accessed October 29, 2015
- ↑ 16.0 16.1 Encyclopedia Britannica, “Wagner Act,” accessed October 29, 2015
- ↑ Encyclopedia Britannica, “National Labor Relations Board (NLRB),” accessed October 29, 2015
- ↑ Lawnix, “NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. – Case Brief Summary,” accessed October 29, 2015
- ↑ Case Briefs, “NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp,” accessed October 29, 2015
- ↑ 20.0 20.1 20.2 Encyclopedia Britannica, “Taft-Hartley Act,” accessed November 3, 2015
- ↑ 21.0 21.1 21.2 National Labor Relations Board, “1947 Taft-Hartley Substantive Provisions,” accessed November 3, 2015
- ↑ NPR, “50 Years of Shrinking Union Membership, In One Map,” February 23, 2015
- ↑ Pew Research Center, “Job categories where union membership has fallen off most,” April 27, 2015
- ↑ Gallup, “Americans Approve of Unions but Support “Right to Work”,” August 28, 2014
Right to Work Laws
Right to work laws apply to all public-sector unions (both state and federal) and have also been enacted in 28 states.
I’ve heard that my state has a ‘Right-to-Work’ law. What does that mean?
In the public-sector union context, right-to-work laws mean that union members do not have to pay union dues to be members of the union.
In states that have enacted right-to-work laws that apply to private employers, although they vary state law, most Right-to-Work laws prohibit labor unions and employers from entering into contracts that only employ unionized workers for the jobs in the contract.
This allows employees to receive the benefits of the union contract without having to pay their share of dues and fees to the union.
Essentially, these states allow workers to join a union if they wish, but employers cannot force or compel employees to join a union as a term or condition of employment.
In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act was passed which prohibited arrangements where employers agree to hire only unionized workers.
The act allows for “union shops,” which are arrangements in the workplace that require employees to join a particular union within a certain time-frame after they are hired.
However, Taft Hartley created an exception to the “union shops” rule that allows for individual states to pass laws prohibiting union shops. These laws are now referred to as “Right-to-Work” laws.
In states without Right-to-Work laws, the workers covered by a union contract can refuse to join the union and then pay the fees associated with the workplace bargaining. States with Right-to-Work laws require union contracts to cover all workers, not just the ones who are members of the union.
This problem can reduce the union’s bargaining strength, which ultimately results in lower wages and benefits.
Contrary to what proponents of Right-to-Work legislation have said in the past, non-Right-to-Work states do not force employees to unionize; this is strictly prohibited by federal law.
Does my state have ‘Right-to-Work’ laws?
Currently, 28 states have Right-to-Work laws.
These states include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri (effective August 28th, 2017), Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia (not currently in effect due to pending litigation), Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Note: if your state is not listed, it does not currently have a right-to-work law, but this area is constantly changing, so please consult with an attorney in your state for additional information.
Right to work laws vary from state to state but generally most employees working for private employers are covered along with public-sector unions. Workers in the railroad and airline industries are not covered.
Where can I expect to encounter ‘Right-to-Work’ laws in the workplace?
- Public-Sector Jobs: right to work laws apply to all public-sector unions, so if you work in a state or federal government position, you are no longer obligated to pay union dues to be a part of the union.
- When Being Hired for a Job: When being hired in a Right-to-Work state, you can be covered under a union contract and not be a member or pay any fees to that union.
In a Right-to-Work state or in the public-sector, just as in states without these laws, employees are still bound by the union contract and the union is the employee’s exclusive bargaining agent.
- When Being Contacted by a Union Organizer: When being contacted by a union organizer about joining a union in a Right-to-Work state or in the public-sector, it is your legal right to refuse to join the union or pay membership fees. The same is true for states without Right-to-Work laws.
You have the right to join a union, and you also have the right to resign membership after joining that union.
- When Trying to Organize a Union or Negotiate a Union Contract: If you are trying to negotiate union contracts, or even organize a union itself, it is important to remember that in states with Right-to-Work laws, the workers covered under the union contract do not have to be members of the union or pay membership fees.
Therefore, you can expect to find workers wanting to have a union contract without wanting to pay union dues and membership fees. This could potentially lead to fewer members and funds for unions. While Right-to-Work states do not require all beneficiaries of union contracts to pay dues or be members, the union itself must represent all workers under that contract the same.
- When Union Dues Are Deducted from Your Paycheck: If you are covered under a union contract in a Right-to-Work state or in the public-sector, you are not required to pay dues. If you were never a union member, you should contact the union and your employer about the fees being deducted since you are not required to pay them. If you are a union member and no longer want to be, you have the right to resign your membership. If you choose to do this, you should notify the union that you do not want to pay dues. However, depending on what dues you have agreed to you may still have to pay some fees after resigning your membership.
Are 'Right to Work' states “Anti-Union”?
Although most employment rights and labor groups are strongly opposed to Right-to-Work laws, proponents argue that Right-to-Work laws simply secure employees’ rights to choose for themselves whether or not to join and/or support a union rather than forcing workers to join as a term of employment. Opponents of Right-to-Work laws consider those laws to enable workers to be freeloaders, to enjoy the benefits of being a union member such as higher wages and job protections, but without paying any of the costs of collective bargaining.
In a recent case, Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court ruled that public-sector employees do not have to pay union fees to unions to cover the cost of collective bargaining.
Proponents of the Janus case argue that bargaining with government is inherently political. Any negotiation made with the government in terms of wages and benefits are political decisions on how much to compensate public employees.
The stance adopted by the union may not reflect the political positions of its members, and forcing the employees to support the position of the union is a violation of their First Amendment rights.
Proponents also argue that money is fungible, and dollars once designated for non-political purposes may end up being used for political purposes, which is a further violation of the First Amendment freedoms of union members.
Opponents of the Janus case argue that public-sector union membership and revenues will be greatly affected, and the decision will lead to “free-rider” issues where members can enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining without having to pay any of the dues associated with the union. The resulting effect of a decrease in revenues could mean lower pay and benefits for public-sector employees.
What if I’m an employment/labor attorney in a ‘Right-to-Work’ state?
Right-to-Work laws differ each individual state, and also differ whether the job is private sector or public-sector. It is important when representing your clients to understand your state's law and your client's union membership status.