Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Union Shops, Closed Shops, and the Law

The interplay between federal law, state law, and labor unions is complex. Over the years, the implementation of federal and state laws has changed the way that businesses interact with unions. Read on to learn about union shops, closed shops, and the law.

Defining the Types of Shops

Businesses can be categorized based on their position on union membership. How the law treats different types of shops has changed throughout history, with the passing of several sweeping federal laws impacting labor organizations. When understanding how businesses and unions interact, it's helpful to understand common terminology:

  • Open Shops: Workplaces where employees are not required to be members of a labor union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. Workers have the choice to join or not join the union.
  • Union Shops: Businesses where employers are free to hire non-members. But union membership is required within a specified period of type as a condition of continued employment.
  • Agency Shops: Employers can choose to hire either union or non-union employees. The labor union serves as a bargaining agent for all employees. While non-unionized workers don't have to join the union as a condition of continued employment, all employees must pay union dues, regardless of union membership.

State and Federal Law Restricting Unions

The history of labor law and unions reflects a progression from fewer restrictions to more limitations on union power. During the Great Depression, Congress enacted various laws to help the unemployed. Congress also passed the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (commonly known as the Wagner Act or the NLRA). The NLRA gave workers the right to organize, join unions, and collectively bargain. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is the federal agency that enforces the NLRA.

Following World War II, a newly Republican-led Congress took steps to limit the powers of unions by enacting the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, otherwise known as the Taft-Hartley Act. This Act significantly changed the Wagner Act by making closed shops illegal. The Taft-Hartley Act allowed union shops. But it also specifically allowed individual states to pass state laws prohibiting union shops. While the Wagner Act allowed businesses to contract with unions and form agency shops, the Taft-Hartley Act left the door open for states to pass laws outlawing agency shops.

As a result of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, many states have enacted laws that place limitations on unions. These are known as right to work states. Right to work laws decree that no person can be compelled to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. More than half of U.S. states have enacted right to work laws. Many states also include limitations on union shops and agency shops as provisions of right to work legislation.

Get Legal Guidance With Labor and Union Issues

How labor and employment laws impact you will vary considerably depending on the laws of your state. If you need help with union membership or other employment issues, consider speaking with an experienced labor lawyer.

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified employment attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select
Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options