Right-to-work law

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This article is about the US laws restricting labor unions. For the human right concept, see right to work.

A "right-to-work" law is a statute in the United States that prohibits union security agreements, or agreements between labor unions and employers, that govern the extent to which an established union can require employees' membership, payment of union dues, or fees as a condition of employment, either before or after hiring. Right-to-work laws do not aim to provide general guarantee of employment to people seeking work, but rather are a government regulation of the contractual agreements between employers and labor unions that prevents them from excluding non-union workers,[1] or requiring employees to pay a fee to unions that have negotiated the labor contract all the employees work under.

Right-to-work provisions (either by law or by constitutional provision) exist in 25 U.S. states, mostly in the southern and western United States, but also including the midwestern states of Michigan,[2] Indiana,[3] and Wisconsin.[4] Business interests represented by the Chamber of Commerce have lobbied extensively to pass right-to-work legislation.[5][6][7][8] Such laws are allowed under the 1947 federal Taft–Hartley Act. A further distinction is often made within the law between those persons employed by state and municipal governments and those employed by the private sector with states that are otherwise union shop (i.e., pay union dues or lose the job) having right to work laws in effect for government employees.


Wagner Act (1935)[edit]

The National Labor Relations Act, generally known as the Wagner Act, was passed in 1935 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Second New Deal". Among other things, the Act provided that a company could lawfully agree to being any of the following:

  • A closed shop, in which employees must be members of the union as a condition of employment. Under a closed shop, an employee who ceased being a member of the union for whatever reason, from failure to pay dues to expulsion from the union as an internal disciplinary punishment, could be fired even if the employee did not violate any of the employer's rules.
  • A union shop, which allows for hiring non-union employees, provided that the employees then join the union within a certain time period.
  • An agency shop, in which employees must pay the equivalent of union dues, but need not formally join the union.
  • An open shop, in which an employee cannot be compelled to join or pay the equivalent of dues to a union, nor can the employee be fired if he or she joins the union.[9]

The Act tasked the National Labor Relations Board, which had existed since 1933, with overseeing these rules.

Taft–Hartley Act (1947)[edit]

In 1947 Congress passed the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, generally known as the Taft–Hartley Act, over President Harry S. Truman's veto. This law repealed some parts of the Wagner Act, including outlawing the closed shop. Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act also authorizes individual states (but not local governments, such as cities or counties) to outlaw the union shop and agency shop for employees working in their jurisdictions. Any state law that outlaws such arrangements is known as a "right-to-work law".

Current status[edit]

The Federal Government operates under open shop rules nationwide, though many of its employees are represented by unions. Unions that represent professional athletes have written contracts that include exclusive representation provisions (for example in the National Football League),[10] but their application is limited to "wherever and whenever legal," as the Supreme Court has clearly held that the application of a Right to Work law is determined by the employee's "predominant job situs."[11] Hence, players on professional sports teams in states with Right to Work laws are subject to those laws, and cannot be required to pay any portion of union dues as a condition of continued employment.[12]

Twenty-five states, plus the District of Columbia, do not have right-to-work laws.


In favor[edit]

Minority rights and due process[edit]

The first arguments concerning the right to work centered around the rights of a dissenting minority with respect to an opposing majoritarian collective bargain. President Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" had prompted many U.S. Supreme Court challenges, among which, were challenges regarding the constitutionality of the National Industry Recovery Act of 1933 (NIRA). In 1935, as a part of its ruling in Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States the Court ruled against mandatory collective bargaining, stating: "The effect, in respect to wages and hours, is to subject the dissenting minority ... to the will of the stated majority .... To ‘accept’ in these circumstances, is not to exercise choice, but to surrender to force. The power conferred upon the majority is, in effect, the power to regulate the affairs of an unwilling minority. This is legislative delegation in its most obnoxious form; for it is not even delegation to an official or an official body ... but to private persons .... [A] statute which attempts to confer such power undertakes an intolerable and unconstitutional interference with personal liberty and private property. The delegation is so clearly arbitrary, and so clearly a denial of rights safeguarded by the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, that it is unnecessary to do more than refer to decisions of this Court which foreclose the question."[13]

Freedom of association[edit]

Besides the U.S. Supreme Court, other proponents of right-to-work laws also point to the Constitution and the right to freedom of association. They argue that workers should both be free to join unions or to refrain, and thus, sometimes refer to non-right-to-work states as "forced unionism" states. These proponents argue that by being forced into a collective bargain, what the majoritarian unions call a fair share of collective bargaining costs is actually "financial coercion and a violation of freedom of choice." An opponent to the union bargain is forced to "financially support an organization they did not vote for, in order to receive monopoly representation they have no choice over."[14]


Proponents such as the Mackinac Center for Public Policy contend that it is unfair that unions can require new and existing employees to either join the union or pay fees for collective bargaining expenses as a condition of employment under union security agreement contracts.[15]


Free riders[edit]

Some opponents (such as Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Z. Marvit) have argued that while it is an effective political slogan, the phrase "right-to-work" is a misnomer because the lack of such a law does not deprive anyone of the right to work; a right-to-work law simply "gives employees the right to be free riders--to benefit from collective bargaining without paying for it".[16][17] Kahlenberg and Marvit also argue that at least in efforts to pass a right-to-work law in Michigan, the exclusion of police and firefighter unions—traditionally less hostile to Republicans—from the law, caused some to question claims that the law was simply an effort to improve Michigan's businesses climate, not to seek partisan advantage.[16]

Freedom of contract and association[edit]

Opponents argue that right-to-work laws restrict freedom of association, and limit the sorts of agreements individuals acting collectively can make with their employer, by prohibiting workers and employers from agreeing to contracts that include "fair share fees". This creates a free rider problem[5][18] among non-union employees who find the union contract beneficial. Thus, union members may end up subsidizing non-union members.[5][19] Moreover, American law imposes a duty of fair representation on unions; consequently non-members in right to work states can and do force unions to provide without compensation grievance services that are paid for by union members. Hence right-to-work laws are not neutral, but rather impose an active and artificial burden on labor unions.

In December 2012, libertarian writer J.D. Tuccille, in Reason magazine, wrote: "I consider the restrictions right-to-work laws impose on bargaining between unions and businesses to violate freedom of contract and association. ... I'm disappointed that the state has, once again, inserted itself into the marketplace to place its thumb on the scale in the never-ending game of playing business and labor off against one another. ... This is not to say that unions are always good. It means that, when the state isn't involved, they're private organizations that can offer value to their members."[20]

In the early development of the Right to Work policy segregationist sentiment was used as an argument, as many people in the south felt that it was wrong for Blacks and Whites to belong to the same unions. Vance Muse, one of the early developers of the Right to Work philosophy in Texas used this type of argument in the development of anti-union laws in Texas in the 1940s.[21][22][23][24][25]

Corporate interests[edit]

Critics from organized labor have argued since the late 1970s[26] that while the National Right to Work Committee purports to engage in grass-roots lobbying on behalf of the "little guy", the National Right to Work Committee was formed by a group of southern businessmen with the express purpose of fighting unions, and that they "added a few workers for the purpose of public relations".[27]

The unions also contend that the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and National Right to Work Committee have received millions of dollars in grants from foundations controlled by major U.S. industrialists like the New York-based Olin Foundation, Inc., which grew out of a family manufacturing business.[27][28]

Studies of economic effect[edit]

According to Tim Bartik of the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, studies of the effect of right-to-work laws "abound", but are not "consistent". Studies have found both "some positive effect on job growth", and no effect.[29] Thomas Holmes argues that it is difficult to analyze right-to-work laws by comparing states due to other similarities between states that have passed these laws. For instance, right-to-work states often have a number of strong pro-business policies, making it difficult to isolate the effect of right-to-work laws.[30] Looking at the growth of states in the Southeast following World War II, Bartik notes that while they have right-to-work laws they have also benefited from "factors like the widespread use of air conditioning and different modes of transportation that helped decentralize manufacturing".[31]

Economist Thomas Holmes compared counties close to the border between states with and without right-to-work laws (thereby holding constant an array of factors related to geography and climate). He found that the cumulative growth of employment in manufacturing in the right-to-work states was 26 percentage points greater than that in the non-right-to-work states.[32] However, given the study design, Holmes points out "my results do not say that it is right-to-work laws that matter, but rather that the 'probusiness package' offered by right-to-work states seems to matter".[33] Moreover, as noted by Kevin Drum and others, this result may reflect business relocation rather than overall enhancement of economic growth, since "businesses prefer locating in states where costs are low and rules are lax".[34]

A February 2011 study by the Economic Policy Institute found:[17]

  • Wages in right-to-work states are 3.2% lower than those in non-RTW states, after controlling for a full complement of individual demographic and socioeconomic variables as well as state macroeconomic indicators. Using the average wage in non-RTW states as the base ($22.11), the average full-time, full-year worker in an RTW state makes about $1,500 less annually than a similar worker in a non-RTW state. The study goes on to say "How much of this difference can be attributed to RTW status itself? There is an inherent “endogeneity” problem in any attempt to answer that question, namely that RTW and non-RTW states differ on a wide variety of measures that are also related to compensation, making it difficult to isolate the impact of RTW status."[17]
  • The rate of employer-sponsored health insurance (ESI) is 2.6 percentage points lower in RTW states compared with non-RTW states, after controlling for individual, job, and state-level characteristics. If workers in non-RTW states were to receive ESI at this lower rate, 2 million fewer workers nationally would be covered.
  • The rate of employer-sponsored pensions is 4.8 percentage points lower in RTW states, using the full complement of control variables in [the study's] regression model. If workers in non-RTW states were to receive pensions at this lower rate, 3.8 million fewer workers nationally would have pensions.

A 2008 editorial in The Wall Street Journal comparing job growth in Ohio and Texas stated that from 1998 to 2008, Ohio lost 10,400 jobs, while Texas gained 1,615,000. The opinion piece suggested right-to-work laws might be among the reasons for the economic expansion in Texas, along with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the absence of a state income tax in Texas.[35] Another Wall Street Journal editorial in 2012, by the president and the labor policy director of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, reported 71% employment growth in right-to-work states from 1980 to 2011, while employment in non-right-to-work states grew just 32% during the same period.[36] The 2012 editorial also stated that since 2001, compensation in right-to-work states had increased 4 times faster than in other states.[36]


In January 2012, in the immediate aftermath of passage of Indiana's right-to-work law, Rasmussen Reports found that 74% of U.S. voters supported right-to-work laws.[37]

In Michigan in January through March 2013, a poll found that 43 percent of those polled thought the law would help Michigan's economy, while 41 percent thought it would hurt.[38]

U.S. states with right-to-work laws[edit]

Right-to-work states shown in turquoise.

The following states (25) are right-to-work states:

In addition, the territory of Guam also has right-to-work laws, and employees of the US Federal Government have the right to choose whether or not to join their respective unions.[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Baird, Charles W. "Right to work before and after 14 (b)." Journal of Labor Research 19.3 (1998): 471-493.
  2. ^ a b "Michigan passes 'right-to-work' legislation". BBC News. December 11, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Schneider, Mary Beth; Sikich, Chris (February 1, 2012). "Indiana Gov. Daniels signs 'right to work' bill; protest winds through Super Bowl Village". The Indianapolis Star. Retrieved February 1, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b Davey, Monica (March 9, 2015). "Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin Signs Bill Curbing Union Fees". The New York Times. Retrieved March 9, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c "The South Carolina Governance Project — Interest Groups in South Carolina," Center for Governmental Services, Institute for Public Service and Policy Research, University of South Carolina, Accessed July 6, 2007.
  6. ^ Miller, Berkeley; Canak, William (1991). "From 'Porkchoppers' to 'Lambchoppers': The Passage of Florida's Public Employee Relations Act". Industrial and Labor Relations Review 44 (2): 349–66. doi:10.2307/2524814. JSTOR 2524814. 
  7. ^ Partridge, Dane M. (1997). "Virginia's New Ban on Public Employee Bargaining: A Case Study of Unions, Business, and Political Competition". Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal 10 (2): 127–39. doi:10.1023/A:1025657412651. 
  8. ^ Canak, William; Miller, Berkeley (1990). "Gumbo Politics: Unions, Business, and Louisiana Right-to-Work Legislation". Industrial and Labor Relations Review 43 (2): 258–71. doi:10.2307/2523703. JSTOR 2523703. 
  9. ^ Roof, Tracy (2011). American Labor, Congress, and the Welfare State, 1935-2010. JHU Press. p. 73. ISBN 9781421400877. 
  10. ^ NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement 2006-2012: Art. V, Sec. 1.
  11. ^ Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, Int'l Union v. Mobil Oil Corp., 426 U.S. 407, 414 (1976) (Marshall, J.).
  12. ^ Orr v. National Football League Players Ass'n, 145 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2224, 1993 WL 604063 (Va.Cir.Ct. 1993).
  13. ^ Carter v. Carter Coal Co., 298 U. S. 238, at 311 (1936).
  14. ^ Campbell, Simon. "Right-to-Work vs Forced Unionism". StopTeacherStrikes, Inc. Retrieved November 14, 2012. Fair share is compulsory dues. A non-union employee is forced to financially support an organization they did not vote for, in order to receive monopoly representation they have no choice over. It is financial coercion and a violation of freedom of choice. Money is forcibly withheld from non-union employees' paychecks and sent to a private organization. When an agency-shop agreement exists in a school district or county, every employee must pay dues to the union as a condition of their employment. They must pay-up or leave. Should anyone's ability to get or keep a job depend on whether they pay dues to a union? Non-union teachers have struggled in court to try and stop their forced dues from being used for political activity by the union. 
  15. ^ Rae, La (1998-08-01). "Improvement #3: Remove Union Security Clauses [Mackinac Center]". Mackinac.org. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  16. ^ a b Kahlenberg, Richard D.; Marvit, Moshe Z. (December 13, 2012). "Right to Work" Isn't a Civil Right. But Unionizing Should Be". 
  17. ^ a b c Gould, Elise; Shierholz, Heidi (2011). "The Compensation penalty of "right-to-work" laws"" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-12-11. 
  18. ^ Dinan, Elizabeth (January 14, 2011). "N.H. Rep. proposes right to work law". Seacoast Online. Retrieved 2012-12-11. 
  19. ^ Greenhouse, Steven (January 3, 2011). "States Seek Laws to Curb Power of Unions". The New York Times. 
  20. ^ J.D. Tuccille (2012-12-12). "When Right-To-Work Is Wrong and Un-Libertarian - Hit & Run". Reason.com. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  21. ^ Colby, Gerard (1984). ""Decade of Despair". Du Pont Dynasty: Behind the Nylon Curtain. Secaucus: Lyle Stewart. 
  22. ^ "The racist roots of 'right to work' laws". Southernstudies.org. 2012-12-13. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  23. ^ Ames, Mark. "As “Right To Work” becomes law in Wisconsin, a reminder of its inventor’s racist past | PandoDaily". Pando.com. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  24. ^ Muse, Vance (1986). "Making Peace with Grandfather". Texas Monthly 14 (2): 142. 
  25. ^ Mirer, J. (2013). Right-to-Work Laws: History and Fightback. Nat'l Law. Guild Rev., 70, 30.
  26. ^ "Examining the opposition's tangled web — the who's who in the right wing". The Machinist. International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO/CLC. October 1977. p. 4. 
  27. ^ a b [http://www.uawlocal3520.org/right%20to%20workfliner.pdf ][dead link] "Questions and Answers about the National Right to Work Committee and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation," United Auto Workers, Accessed February 3, 2008.
  28. ^ "Meet the billionaires behind No Rights At Work". 27 January 2013. Teamster Nation. Retrieved 14 February 2013. 
  29. ^ [1][dead link]
  30. ^ Holmes, Thomas J. (1998). "The Effect of State Policies on the Location of Manufacturing: Evidence from State Borders". Journal of Political Economy 106 (4): 667–705. doi:10.1086/250026. 
  31. ^ "News". Wmuk.org. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  32. ^ Barro, Robert (February 28, 2011). "Opinion: Unions vs. the Right to Work". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2012-12-11. 
  33. ^ "The Location of Industry : Do States’ Policies Matter?" (PDF). Cato.org. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  34. ^ "Unions and Growth". Motherjones.com. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  35. ^ Texas v. Ohio, "Texas is prospering while Ohio lags"| The Wall Street Journal| March 3, 2008| Accessed July 18, 2008.
  36. ^ a b Vernuccio, Vincent; Lehman, Joseph G. (December 14, 2012). "Vernuccio and Lehman: An Inspiration and a Warning From Michigan". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved December 18, 2012. 
  37. ^ "74% Favor Right-to-Work Law Eliminating Mandatory Union Dues - Rasmussen Reports™". Rasmussenreports.com. 2012-01-31. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  38. ^ "Poll: Michigan evenly divided on right-to work law". MLive.com. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  39. ^ "Right to Work Laws: Arizona | National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation". Nrtw.org. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  40. ^ "Florida Constitution". The Florida Legislature. Retrieved 2014-07-11. 
  41. ^ "Right to Work States: Florida | National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation". Nrtw.org. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  42. ^ "South Carolina Code of Laws § 41-7-10". 
  43. ^ "LABOR CODE CHAPTER 101. LABOR ORGANIZATIONS". Statutes.legis.state.tx.us. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  44. ^ "Right to Work States: Guam | National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation". Nrtw.org. 2000-05-15. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 

External links[edit]

Opposed to right-to-work laws[edit]

Supported right-to-work laws[edit]