“Right to Work” legislation refers to a set of laws that allow employees to work without joining a union and paying fees. In that regard, union membership is not one of the requirements for employment. Currently, 27 states have enacted the laws. In those states, employees can enjoy the services of a union without paying dues. These laws have been controversial for many years, causing debates between proponents and opponents. The coverage may vary from state to state. However, they cover all employees in the public sector and the majority of those who work in the private sector. Proponents argue that they protect the freedom of employees while proponents claim that they allow some employees to reap benefits like higher wages and job protections without paying fees for the services offered.
The history of the “Right to Work’ law can be traced back to the 1930s when President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The main goal of the Act was to protect employees’ right to self-organize for purposes of collective bargaining (Padhi, 2019). The legislation required employers to engage with unions and workers to pay dues to the unions. During that time, union membership was a requirement among American labor unions for an individual to secure employment in certain companies. In 1947, the passage of labor law reform by Congress eradicated the system and introduced a new one that comprised of union security provisions (Shermer, 2018). For instance, union shops and agency free provisions were common. For example, the agency free provisions allowed workers to pay grievance processing dues but not political ones. In the 1950s, a movement emerged that petitioned states to allow certain union members to enjoy membership benefits without paying dues (Padhi, 2019). At that time, they were referred to as right-to-work statutes. Since the 1950s, several states have enacted “Right to Work” laws that allow employees to refrain from paying dues, though working in unionized organizations. Section 164 of the Taft-Hartley Act laid a foundation for the right-to-work laws by giving states the authority to prohibit mandatory union membership (Padhi, 2019). 12 states had passed them within 12 months after the enactment of the Act.
“Right to Work” laws were proposed by some members of Congress in the form of reforms to the NLRA. The members were dissatisfied with the structure of the NLR which was in support of union activity. For example, the amendments introduced union shops and the subjection of unions to claims of unfair practices (Padhi, 2019). The law’s effect has changed significantly since inception because of its negative impact. Many unions are unable to implement collective bargaining and related activities because of insufficient funds resulting from the legislation (Shermer, 2018). A requirement of exclusive representation strains the finances of unions because they attend to employees who do not pay for the services offered. (Padhi, 2019) In the United States, labor unions are a major source of financial aid for Democrats during elections. In that regard, weaker unions have resulted in a weaker Democratic Party, thus favoring the Republican Party. Surveys have shown that employees in states with the laws get lesser wages than employees without the laws.
Proponents of right-to-work laws argue that the legislation gives workers the freedom to either join a union or not. As a result, more jobs are available as employers save money that is usually paid as wages to unions (Garcia, 2019). The freedom to choose representation aligns with individuals’ rights that are protected by the constitution. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics has revealed that more jobs have been created in the states with the legislation compared to states without it (Garcia, 2019). Opponents also argue that the laws prohibit economic growth and could render certain industries unattractive to potential employees. Requiring employers to pay dues because of a strong union representation is a violation of their First Amendment freedoms (Garcia, 2019). They further argue that matters such as wages and employment benefits are political issues that can be addressed without union representation.
The main disadvantages of the laws include an increase in employment related fatalities and more discrimination claims. Employees who represent themselves are at higher risk of discrimination than those who are represented by unions. Opponents of the laws argue that they promote unfairness as non-union employees enjoy representation services without paying fees (Garcia, 2019). Non-union employees enjoy benefits of union representation like higher wages and job protections without making contributions to support the collective bargaining efforts of unions. Moreover, they weaken the unions because lower fee payments erode their influence and financial power (Shermer, 2018). They are unable to support political candidates and initiatives sufficiently. They also argue that the effect of reduced revenues on unions could result in lower pay and employment benefits for employees in the public sector because the unions could be unable to engage effectively in collective bargaining.
“Right to Work” laws are ethically sound because their benefits outweigh their disadvantages. They help to undercut the monopoly powers of unions and play a key role in improving the economy. For example, they have contributed to the increase in the number of employment opportunities in many states. The monopolies granted by the government to labor unions are detrimental to economic growth, and diminishing them facilitates growth in various sectors such as manufacturing. Giving labor unions too much power leads to the unethical distortion of prices, the production of low-quality goods and services, and an increase in the rate of unemployment. The laws are positive for employees because of the freedom to choose a form of representation. On the other hand, they encourage the improvement of employer-employee relationships. Employees benefit significantly because the laws restrict the power of employees to join together and fight for higher wages and better working conditions.
The Future of “Right to Work” laws
The laws are gaining popularity in the US as more jurisdictions explore the idea of enacting the legislation. After the inauguration of President Donald Trump, Republicans introduced a right-to-work bill. In the past, similar bills were rejected in several sessions of Congress. However, it could be approved now because the Republican Party control the House and the Senate (LaJeunesse, 2019). In 2017, New Hampshire rejected the laws. However, the states of Missouri and Kentucky passed them and joined a continuing trend. It is highly likely that more states will enact the laws in the future as research has shown that the laws have significant economic benefits (LaJeunesse, 2019). For example, the Bureau of Labor revealed that between 1990 and 29014, states that have enacted the laws reported a high rate of employment growth.
The “Right to Work” legislation is a set of laws that give individuals the freedom to both join a union and whether to pay dues or not. The move by states to enact the laws is informed by the Taft-Hartley Act, which was passed as an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. Proponents argue that it promotes employment and economic growth, while opponents claim that it weakens unions’ power and influence, and renders them unable to support societal initiatives. More than half of the states have enacted the laws. Therefore, it is highly likely that more states will pass the legislation in the future.
- Garcia, R. J. (2019). Right-to-work laws: Ideology and impact. Annual Review of Law and Social Science 15(1), 509-519.
- LaJeunesse, R. L. (2019). The future looks bright for the right-to-work movement. The Regulatory Reviews. Web.
- Padhi, P. K. (2019). Labor and industrial laws (4th ed.). PHI Private Learning Limited.
- Shermer, E. T. (2018). The right to work really means the right to work for less. The Washington Post. Web.