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Right to Work Laws

(Fourth part of the series on the State of Labor Unions in America)

Right to work laws are often misunderstood. They really do only one thing - such a law makes it illegal in that particular state for a union contract to have a provision calling for mandatory union membership. Stated another way, when a state becomes a right to work state, a labor contract cannot require union membership as a condition of employment. These laws prohibit as well other variations such as agency shop or fair share. In other words, you don't have to join a union or pay money to a union to have a job at a unionized company.

Here is a map showing the 26 states which have passed such laws.

map.png

Right to work states shown in turquoise

Below is a listing of when and how these states got there.

The following states (26) are right-to-work states:

  • Alabama (adopted 1953)
  • Arizona (Constitution, State Constitution Article 25 approved 1946) (adopted 1944)
  • Arkansas (Constitution, 1947, Amendment 34)
  • Florida (Constitution, 1944, revised 1968, Article 1, Section 6)
  • Georgia (adopted 1947)
  • Idaho (adopted 1985)
  • Indiana (State law, 2012)
  • Iowa (adopted 1947)
  • Kansas (Constitution, 1958, Article 15, Section 12)
  • Louisiana (adopted 1976)
  • Michigan (State law, 2012)
  • Mississippi (Constitution, adopted 1954)
  • Nebraska (Constitution and statute, adopted 1946)
  • Nevada (adopted 1951)
  • North Carolina (adopted 1947)
  • North Dakota (adopted 1947)
  • Oklahoma (Constitution, adopted 2001)
  • South Carolina (adopted 1954)
  • South Dakota (adopted 1946)
  • Tennessee (adopted 1947)
  • Texas (adopted 1947)
  • Utah (adopted 1955)
  • Virginia (adopted 1947)
  • West Virginia (adopted 2016)
  • Wisconsin (adopted 2015)
  • Wyoming (adopted 1963)

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.

The legal basis for this is Section 14(b) of the 1947 Taft-Hartley amendments to the National Labor Relations Act. This was passed by the Republican 80th congress over vigorous opposition from organized labor. The normal interpretation of laws applies the constitutional doctrine of supremacy of federal law. The National Labor Relations Act, being a federal law, would ordinarily be thought of as pre-empting any state law regulation labor-management relations. However, 14(b) changed all of that. It said that under the National Labor Relations Act it is ok to have a labor contract provision calling for mandatory union membership. However, it went on to say that it is an exception to the principle of supremacy of federal law if a state passes a law saying that there cannot be such a provision in that state.

The impact is really more practical than legal. Unions are weaker in right to work states. They are weaker because they will have less income. Given a choice, a good percentage of workers will opt to not pay union dues. There has been a trend in recent years for states to pass right to work laws. Unlikely states such as Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, and West Virginia have passed such laws in the past few years. Their belief is that it will make their state more attractive to business because unions are weaker than they are in the non-right to work states. There is no question but that laws such as this will add to the growing problems of private sector unions.

Questions? Contact Attorney Richard Wessels in our St. Charles office at (630) 377-1554 or by email at riwessels@wesselssherman.com

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