Details on State Right-to-Work Laws
In the 1940s, many states enacted so-called right-to-work laws. These “right-to-work states" banned requiring non-union employees at unionized workplaces to pay a monthly fee comparable to union membership dues.
It is often suggested that these laws ban "forced union membership," which is already prohibited under federal law. Most of these laws even state that employment may not be denied based on one's union membership, but that is already illegal at the federal level.
Legal Issues in Right-to-Work States
As labor unions began to organize and bargain with employers on behalf of their members, several legal issues began to arise. These typically include:
- If a union negotiated a contract with a company, did the contract cover only union members? Does the contract cover employees who refused to join the union too?
- Could the union insist that the employer refuse to hire non-union members? Is union membership a condition of employment?
- If a member violated some union labor organization policy, could the union insist that the employer fire the employee?
How Many States Have Right-to Work Laws?
Twenty-eight states are currently right-to-work states:
- North Dakota
- North Carolina
- South Dakota
- South Carolina
As of April 2022, West Virginia right-to-work legislation is pending.
Some states have a right-to-work law but no statutory provision, allowing the union collective bargaining power with the employer. They have the right to insist upon paying monthly dues as a condition for employment.
Don't I Have a Right to Work Anyway?
Yes, but the phrase "right-to-work" can be a bit misleading. "Right-to-Work" means that you cannot be forced to join a union or pay dues. It does not mean that workers cannot build a union. It doesn't mean that anyone has a right to work.
Right-To-Work Movement Across the United States
Some states passed right-to-work laws to make unions weaker. Critics of these laws argue that bosses use them to divide workers and encourage workers not to belong to the union. Supporters of these laws argue it's unfair to require non-union members to pay union dues. Opponents claim that right-to-work laws are intended to decrease union membership (which, in fact, has happened in states that have passed these laws).
Several prominent figures throughout history have spoken out against right-to-work laws, including famed Teamsters President and mob boss Jimmy Hoffa and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
Right to Organize
As well as putting restrictions on prohibiting union membership requirements, some state labor laws also specifically allow for union membership.
In Texas, for instance, the relevant section of the law states that "All persons engaged in any kind of labor may associate and form trade unions and other organizations to protect themselves in their personal labor in their respective employment."
Also, members of the union are allowed to influence others to enter or refuse employment, but not prohibit it. This means that even though an employer would hire a union member, there may be enormous social pressure to not work with an employer if the union does not approve of it.
National Labor Relations Board
The National Labor Relations Act has legislatures on right-to-work laws at the national level. The National Labor Relations 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
- Promise certain benefits to those who refuse to join a union
Note: State employment laws are always subject to change, usually through legislation, ballot initiative, or court ruling -- contact a labor law attorney in your state or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
State Right-to-Work Laws Related Resources:
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