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Right-to-work laws are statutes enforced in twenty-two U.S. states, mostly in the southern or western U.S., allowed under provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act, which prohibit agreements between trade unions and employers making membership or payment of union dues or "fees" a condition of employment, either before or after hiring.

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 at unionized workplaces are required to be members of the union as 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 outlawed the "closed shop." The Act, however, permitted employers and unions to operate under a "union shop" rule, which required all new employees to join the union after a minimum period after their hire. Under "union shop" rules, employers are obliged to fire any employees who have avoided paying membership dues necessary to maintain 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.

A similar arrangement to the “union shop” is the “agency shop,” under which employees must pay the equivalent of union dues, but need not formally join such 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 or pay the equivalent of dues to a union, nor can the employee be fired if he or she joins the union. In other words, the employee has the right to work, regardless of whether or not he or she is a member or financial contributor to such a union.

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 "agency shop" rules.

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbiamarker do not have right-to-work laws. If no union is formed in an employee's workplace, the lack of a right-to-work law does not mean an employee has to join a union. The provisions in right to work laws, as in South Dakota's for example, can give the state Attorney General power to investigate allegations against unions.

Arguments for and against

Arguments for

Proponents of right-to-work laws point to the Constitutional right to freedom of association, as well as the common-law principle of private ownership of property. They argue that workers should be free both to join unions and to refrain from joining unions, and for this reason often refer to non-right-to-work states as "forced-union" states. They contend that it is wrong for unions to be able to agree with employers to include clauses in their union contracts (also known as "union security clauses") which require all employees to either join the union, or pay union dues as a condition of employment. Furthermore, they contend that in certain cases forced union dues are used to support political causes, causes which many union members may oppose.

Proponents also argue that right-to-work states experience higher economic growth and job creation than do non-right to work law states. Moreover, they contend right-to-work states typically have lower unemployment rates.

A critic questions this because there are other differences between states. For instance, states with RTW laws may have other pro-business laws, which makes it difficult to determine the effect of any single law.

A March 3, 2008 editorial in The Wall Street Journal compared Ohiomarker to Texasmarker and examined why "Texas is prospering while Ohio lags". According to the editorial, during the previous decade, while Ohio lost 10,400 jobs, Texas created 1,615,000 new jobs. The article cites several reasons for the economic expansion in Texas, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the absence of a state income tax, and right-to-work laws.

Arguments against

Opponents argue right-to-work laws create a free-rider problem, in which non-union employees (who are bound by the terms of the union contract even though they are not members of the union) benefit from collective bargaining without paying union dues. They also contend outlawing compulsory union dues makes union activities less sustainable, that the laws prevent free contracts between unions and business owners, and that this makes it harder for unions to organize and less attractive for people to join a union. For these reasons, they often refer to right-to-work states as "right-to-fire" states, and "non-right-to-work" states as "free collective bargaining" states.

Business interests led by the Chamber of Commerce lobbied extensively for right-to-work legislation in the Southern states.Critics from organized labor have argued since the late 1970s 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." They also argue that the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has received millions of dollars in grants from foundations controlled by major U.S. industrialists like the New York based John M. Olin Foundation, Inc. which grew out of a family manufacturing business, and other "right wing" groups.

Opponents further argue that because unions are weakened by these laws, wages are lowered and worker safety and health is endangered. They cite statistics from the United States Department of Labormarker showing, for example, that in 2003 the rate of workplace fatalities per 100,000 workers was highest in right-to-work states.

Libertarian split view

From a libertarian perspective, right-to-work laws may be argued either for or against, depending on whether the focus is on the freedom of the employee or the freedom of the employer. A right-to-work law can be seen as either freeing individual employees from being coerced into joining a union, or as restricting the right of an employer to enter into a voluntary contract with its labor union. For example, the Libertarian Party's affiliate in the state of Georgia includes an endorsement of right-to-work laws in its party platform. However, in the past, the national Libertarian Party has included talking points in its platform which have explicitly called for the repeal of right-to-work laws. In 2006, the Libertarian Reform Caucus successfully spearheaded a drive to remove from the Libertarian Party platform specific planks upon which there is significant disagreement among membership. As a result, the national platform no longer specifically addresses right-to-work laws.

U.S. states with right-to-work laws

Right-to-work states hilighted
The following 22 states are right-to-work states: In addition, the territory of Guammarker also has right-to-work laws.

† An employee's right-to-work is established under the state Constitution, not under legislative action.

See also


  1. Art. V, Sec. 1
  2. "Right-to-Work vs. Forced Unionism"
  3. Remove Union Security Clauses [Mackinac Center for Public Policy]
  4. [1]
  5. [2]
  6. Unemployment Rates [Mackinac Center for Public Policy]
  7. Holmes, Thomas J., “The Effect of State Policies on the Location of Manufacturing: Evidence from State Borders,” The Journal of Political Economy, 1998, 106, 667–705.
  8. Texas v. Ohio, The Wall Street Journal, March 3, 2008. Accessed July 18, 2008.
  9. "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.
  10. Berkeley Miller and William Canak, (1991) "From "Porkchoppers" to "Lambchoppers": The Passage of Florida's Public Employee Relations Act," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 44, No. 2; pp. 349–366.
  11. Dane M. Partridge, (1997) "Virginia's New Ban on Public Employee Bargaining: A Case Study of Unions, Business, and Political Competition," Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, Volume 10, Number 2; pp. 127–139.
  12. William Canak and Berkeley Miller, (1990) "Gumbo Politics: Unions, Business, and Louisiana Right-to-Work Legislation," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 43, No. 2; pp. 258–271.
  13. "Examining the opposition's tangled web — the who's who in the right wing" The Machinist, published by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO/CLC, October 1977, Accessed February 4, 2008.
  14. "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.
  15. "National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation," Media Transparency, Accessed July 24, 2007.
  16. "John M. Olin Foundation, Inc.," Media Transparency, Accessed July 24, 2007.
  17. Metro Council Democrats Say No to Right to Work for Less
  18. University of Michigan report accessed January 3, 2008
  19. Georgian Libertarian Party Platform accessed January 3, 2008
  20. 2004 Platform of Libertarian Party
  21. Dean & Libertarians Hate "Right to Work" Laws
  22. " Victory in Portland! Libertarian Reform Caucus"
  23. National Platform of the Libertarian Party

External links

Supporting "right-to-work" laws

Opposed to "right-to-work" laws

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