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California Right to Work Laws

So-called "right-to-work laws" protect the rights of non-union workers to find and secure employment. But since unions contract with employers (including state and local governments), such laws attempt to strike a balance by prohibiting both employers and unions from denying a job based on union status. Critics of these laws insist their sole purpose is to discourage labor union membership, since employees in states with right-to-work laws still enjoy the rights and benefits won by unions without having to pay dues.

In California, right to work laws do not exist. The "Paycheck Protection" initiative, which was very similar to other right-to-work efforts, was soundly defeated when it was put on the general election ballot in 2012. This law would have banned automatic deductions from union members' paychecks for union dues, among other provisions.

Most states that do, in fact, have right-to-work laws in place use some variation of the following language in their statutes:

"No person shall be denied employment on account of membership or nonmembership in a labor union."

Specifically, these laws prohibit union security agreements -- contracts between employers and unions that outline the extent to which employees may be compelled to join the union. So if you wanted to work as a pipefitter for a construction company but didn't want to join the union (which requires payment of monthly dues), then you cannot be compelled to do so. Generally, states with strong union membership have resisted efforts to pass right-to-work laws.

The National Labor Relation Board's website offers detailed information about federal union laws and procedures. Regardless of whether a state has passed a right-to-work law, it is illegal for employers to threaten employees who express an interest in joining or forming a union or to promise certain benefits to those who refuse to join a union.

Although the Golden State has no statutory provisions related to right-to-work laws, the following links and resources should help you get acquainted with labor and employment laws in California and in general.

Code Section No statutory provisions
Policy on Union Membership, Organization, etc. -
Prohibited Activity -
Penalties -

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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California Right to Work Laws: Related Resources

Talk to a California Attorney

Even though California does not have right to work laws, there are still a lot of legal issues surrounding unions. If you are an employee who has been threatened by your employer because you expressed interest in a union or were promised benefits for not joining a union, then you should talk to a California labor law attorney about your rights.


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