Right-to-work laws are statutes enforced in several US States, allowed under provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act, which prohibit employees from being required to join a trade union as a condition of employment, either before or after hire.
The Taft-Hartley Act
Prior to the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act by Congress over President Harry S. Truman's veto in 1947, unions and employers covered by the National Labor Relations Act could lawfully agree to a "closed shop", in which employees were required to be existing union members a condition of employment. Under the law in effect before the Taft-Hartley amendments, 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 also be fired even if the employee did not violate any of the employer's rules.
The Taft-Hartley Act outlaws the "closed shop". The Act, however, permits employers and unions to operate under a "union shop" rule, which requires all new employees to join the union after a minimum period after their hire. Under "union shop" rules, a union may demand that the employer fire any employees who have failed to pay the regularly required dues and fees necessary to maintain their membership in the union; however, the union cannot demand that the employer discharge an employee who has been expelled from membership for any other reason.
The "union shop" is effectively the same as the "agency shop", which requires employees to pay the equivalent of union dues, but does not require them to formally join the union.
Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act goes further and 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. Under the "open shop" rule, an employee cannot be compelled to join a union that may exist at the employer, nor can the employee be fired if s/he joins the union. In other words, the employee has the "right to work", whether as a union member or not.
The Federal Government operates under "open shop" rules nationwide, although many of its employees are represented by unions. Conversely, professional sports leagues (regardless of where a team is located) operate under "union shop" rules.
Arguments for and against right-to-work laws
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Opponents of right-to-work laws argue that they are essentially anti-union laws. The ability of non-union employees to benefit from collective bargaining without paying dues creates a free rider problem, allowing employees to leave (or not join) a union while still ostensibly benefiting from the actions of that union, thus making union activities less sustainable. (Levels of unionization are typically much lower in right-to-work states.) Unions in right-to-work states still have to represent and protect employees who choose not to pay their union dues. Thus the ability of unions to stay solvent is at risk. Opponents also argue that the laws prevent free contracts between unions and business owners, making it harder for unions to organize and less attractive for people to join a union. They call these laws "work-for-less" or "right-to-shirk" laws.
Proponents of right-to-work laws point to the Constitional right to freedom of association, as well as the common-law principle of private ownership of property.
According to the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 1993-2003 the percentage change in non-farm private sector employees was 17.7% growth overall. The change in Right to Work States was 24.1% growth, while the change in "union shop" States was 14.2% growth.
According to the US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, from 1993-2003 the percentage change in real personal income was 29% growth overall. The change in Right to Work States was 37% growth, while the change in "union shop" States was 26% growth.
According to the US Bureau of Census, from 1982-2001 the percentage change in manufacturing establishments was 1.5% loss overall. The change in Right to Work States was 7% growth, while the change in "union shop" States was 4.9% loss.
Also according to the US Bureau of Census, from 1993-2003 the percentage growth of people covered by private health insurance was 8.5% growth. The change in Right to Work States was 13.6% growth, while the change in "union-shop" States was 5.9% growth.
According to both the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Census, from 1991-2001 the percentage change in real value added per production worker was 11.1% growth overall. The change in Right to Work States was 17.1% growth, while the change in "union-shop" states was 8.4% growth.
Such statistics can be misleading, however, because they do not take into account all the possible reasons for the differences. For example, the departure of high-paying industrial work from "union-shop" states to right-to-work states would decrease real wages, etc. in the "union-shop" states, and consequently increase them in right-to-work states. Such disparities are not necessarily due to the ineffectiveness of unions, but may be due to ownership attempts to leave or otherwise generally avoid "union-shop" states in favor of right-to-work states, in which they can pay lower wages. More importantly, even if ownership maintains the same pay scale, ownership can avoid what it may consider "restrictive" union work rules and institute its own work rules in lieu thereof.
Even given these possibilities, states without right-to-work laws have an average per-capita income 16.0% higher than states with the laws. This value is the same with or without adjustment for population size.
US States with Right-to-Work laws
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
* Workers' right-to-work protected by state's Constitution, not by statute.
The territory of Guam also has right-to-work laws.
For "Right-To-Work" laws
- National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation
- National Right to Work Committee
- National Institute for Labor Relations Research
- Effects of Right to Work Laws on Employees, Unions and Businesses