Right to Work Laws address situations related to memberships in labor unions; you never need to join a union or pay union dues to be hired or to work for a company. Commonly, these laws involve employers refusing to hire non-union workers or requiring that workers join a union as a condition of employment. This behavior is illegal because people have the "right to work" without being part of a union under state and federal laws.
Right to work laws apply to all public-sector unions (both state and federal) and have also been enacted in 28 states.
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 based on 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.
See the National Right to Work Legal Foundation information on which states have right-to-work laws.
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.
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.
Right-to-Work laws differ based on each individual state, and also differ based on 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.
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