What Is A Right To Work Law?

By Sky Ariella
Dec. 6, 2022

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Editor’s Note: We are not lawyers. Consult a lawyer for legal advice.

Right-to-work laws greatly impact an individual’s ability to get and keep a job, depending on their state. This collection of labor laws involves an individual’s right to decide whether or not to become a member of a union.

Right-to-work laws exist at both the federal level in the Taft-Hartley Act and within states. It states that every candidate has a ‘right to work’ without requiring them to join a union.

Key Takeaways:

  • A right-to-work law prohibits employers and unions require employees to join the union or pay union dues even if they are not a member of the union.

  • 27 states, plus Guam, currently have right-to-work laws.

  • Proponents of right-to-work laws claim they protect individual freedom.

  • Opponents of right-to-work laws claim they reduce the power and protection that unions provide.

What Is A Right-To-Work Law?

What Is A Right-to-Work Law?

A right-to-work law prohibits union security agreements between employers and unions that require employees to join a union or pay union dues even if they are not a member of the union.

A union security agreement is a contract between an employer and a labor union that defines the extent which a union can compel an employee to join a union or require them to pay union dues even if they are not a member of the union.

History of Right-to-Work Laws

Most people regard the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 as the earliest emergence of the right-to-work laws. It altered aspects of the National Labor Relations Act from ten years prior. These edits to the NLRA were enacted to uphold fairness between all parties involved in the union and employer relations.

One of the most notable changes made through the Taft-Hartley act was creating a right-to-work law option. This made it illegal for businesses with agreements with unions to require employees to be a part of that union. States chose whether to incorporate the right-to-work laws in their regulations individually.

As of 2021, there are 28 states, including the territory of Guam, in America that adhere to the right-to-work laws.

Which States Have Right to Work Laws?

About half of the states in the US passed right-to-work laws to protect their citizens from needing to be a member of a union to be hired. These states allow employees to choose whether they want to be a participant in a trade union and pay the dues that come along with it.

Alternatively, the other half of the states that haven’t adopted the right-to-work laws allow employers to require individuals to be a labor union participant.

Below is the list of states in 2021 that have right to work laws:

Reasons For And Against Right-To-Work Laws

There is a heated debate that accompanies the right-to-work laws in the United States. Generally, people who are passionate about these state policies fall into two schools of thought:

  1. Right-to-work laws protects an individual’s freedom. On the other side of the spectrum, people who support the right-to-work laws protect individual freedoms. This group winces at the thought of union participation being mandatory for all employees in a particular industry.

    Forcing employees to support a group against their will takes away their ability to make their own decisions. There are many reasons someone wouldn’t want to join a union.

    People supporting the right-to-work laws often believe that labor unions tend to back political candidates as a group. Individual employees might prefer not to be associated with these political affiliations.

    Additionally, employees might not want to pay union dues on top of the cost for training in their field.

    Supporters of the right-to-work laws acknowledge that there are a multitude of reasons that an individual doesn’t want to join a union, and it’s not an employer’s place to coerce them into it.

  2. Right-to-work laws damage labor unions, empower corporations. People who are against the right-to-work laws often use the rationale that they damage labor unions and the protections they provide.

    Labor unions, and collective bargaining, are a tool in which workers use to demand certain provisions from businesses, such as increased wages, health insurance, retirement benefits, and workplace protections.

    However, due to right-to-work laws, it is harder for unions to enter agreements with businesses that require its employees to join or at least pay for the union. This in turn diminishes the power of the union.

    Right-to-work laws allow employees to reap the benefits of collective bargaining without having to pay due. This “free rider” problem reduces the money and influence that a union has to organize and bargain on behalf of its members.

    As a result, unions cannot make any serious demands because the business can always hire non-union members.

    Overtime this reduces the power of unions and increases the power of the business. Big businesses and corporations in particular gain from this because their collectivization of capital and resources gives them a strategic advantage over unions and individuals.

10 Frequently Asked Questions About Right to Works Laws

  1. What are the pros of right-to-work laws? The right to work laws were established because of the benefits they serve to employees.

    A pro of right-to-work laws is that they provide employees with the freedom to make their own choices about participating in a union. Being coerced into doing something is a drag, especially when it comes to your career.

    Some additional benefits of the right-to-work laws include:

    • Prevents unions and employers from making participation a condition of employment

    • Decreases union influence

    • Lowers costs

  2. What are the cons of right-to-work laws? Right-to-work laws also present some negative aspects. Union supporters pose the limitation of funds for labor unions as one of the most detrimental cons of right-to-work laws.

    Giving employees a choice to not join a union, or pay their dues, decreases the funding that they will receive.

    Some additional cons of right-to-work laws include:

    • Lessens the ability to collectively bargain for protections and benefits

    • Creates less participation in unions

    • Gives non-members benefits without being part of the union

  3. Are right-to-work laws anti-union? Technically, right-to-work laws are neither anti- nor pro-union. They exist as a measure of protection for employees, but it was not established on behalf of a particular union movement.

    However, many people who are against the right-to-work laws do believe that they are anti-union. This is because the right-to-work laws look out for the freedoms of the individual rather than supporting unions directly.

  4. Is there an overarching federal right-to-work law? No, there is not an overarching federal right-to-work law yet. However, there have been a few attempts to implement one. The National Right to Work Act was put forth in 2017 but hasn’t seen much progress since then.

    In 2019, a bill with similar stipulations was presented to the Senate. It’s too soon to tell if it’ll gain any momentum, meaning that right-to-work laws remain up to states individually for now.

  5. What is exclusive representation? Exclusive representation refers to a federal regulation that states union representatives should collectively bargain on behalf of all employees. Representatives bargain with employers to reach the best possible outcome for all employees, including those who are non-union.

    The agreements reached by collective bargaining applies to all employees, regardless of their union status or state.

  6. What is collective bargaining? Collective bargaining is one of the major advantages of unionization. It refers to the process of negotiation between an employer and a group of employees. A few representatives of the union are chosen to be the voice of the whole union to get them the working conditions they desire.

    Collective bargaining is a big part of the reason for tension between unionized and non-union employees. A lot of effort goes into collective bargaining between representatives and employees.

    When conclusions are finally reached, everyone receives the benefits regardless of union status.

  7. What is a “free-rider”? A “free-rider” is a term that was established by people who are against the right to work laws. It describes an individual who is not part of a union but still receives the benefits that it fights for.

    They argue that free-riders receive the advantages of unionization without paying the dues that unionized employees do.

  8. How much do union dues cost? Joining a labor union comes with a price tag to keep their efforts funded. Usually, these dues are taken out of an employee’s paycheck in the form of a percentage every month.

    Most union dues cost about two hours of work, adding up to $50-$400 monthly.

  9. Can you resign from union membership? Any union member is allowed to resign from their position at any time. However, the process might be long and difficult, especially for employees who don’t live in a right-to-work state.

    Even though it’s a federal law to release anyone from union membership, non-right-to-work states allow charges called ‘agency fees’ to be applied on the way out.

  10. How do you resign from union membership? Resignation from a labor union differs on a case-to-case basis. Some unions require signing a contract, which specifies the details for what happens in the event of resignation. This might include information like windows of opportunity to resign and exit fees that need to be paid.

    Once you’ve made the decision to resign and are fully aware of the contract requirements for resignation, all that’s left to do is notify the union. This is done by sending a formal letter of resignation.

    The letter of resignation is also an opportunity to explain any objections you have, such as refusing to pay any pay fees unrelated to collective bargaining.

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Sky Ariella

Sky Ariella is a professional freelance writer, originally from New York. She has been featured on websites and online magazines covering topics in career, travel, and lifestyle. She received her BA in psychology from Hunter College.

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