On March 9, 2015, Wisconsin became the 25th state to make it illegal to require employees to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. The other states with right-to-work laws or constitutional amendments include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming.
Federal Labor Law
The National Labor Relations Act is a federal law that governs labor relations for most private sector employees except those in the railway and airline industries. The NLRA allows mandatory union membership as a condition of employment when the collective bargaining agreement between a company and the union has a provision that requires it. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that, while employees cannot be forced to join a union, they can be required to pay their fair share of the cost of collective bargaining, contract administration and grievance procedures, which is essentially equivalent to the cost of union dues in many states.
Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act gives states the right to enact their own laws that prohibit mandatory union membership as a condition of employment. A right-to-work state is a state that has passed a law or amended its constitution to make it illegal to force an employee to join a union or pay union dues or agency fees because his job is included in the union's collective bargaining agreement. An employee who does not join the union can't be denied any of the benefits he receives through collective bargaining except benefits that are provided and paid for by the union.
Railway and Airline Industry Employees
Employees in the railway and airline industries are exempt from state right-to-work laws because their labor relations are governed by a federal law called the Railway Labor Act. The RLA prohibits mandatory union membership as a condition of employment. However, it requires employees who don't join the union to pay an agency fee that covers their fair share of collective bargaining, contract administration and grievance procedures. Another federal law, the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, governs union administrative and financial transactions, protection of union funds and assets and union elections.
Impact on Workers
It's unclear whether employees benefit from right-to-work laws or are disadvantaged by them. According to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, the average worker in a right-to-work state has lower wages and is less likely to have employer-sponsored insurance and pension plans than an employee in a state without the law. However, the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation, an anti-union lobbying group, claims that employees in right-to-work states have a higher standard of living and greater after-tax income, and that the states have lower unemployment, faster growth in manufacturing and agricultural jobs and fewer work stoppages.
- National Conference of State Legislatures: Right-to-Work Resources
- National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation: Right-to-Work Frequently Asked Questions
- National Labor Relations Board: 1947 Taft-Hartley Substantive Provisions
- U.S. Department of Transportation: Highlights of the Railway Labor Act
- United States Department of Labor: The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959
- Economic Policy Institute: Average Worker in Right-to-Work State Earns $1,500 Less Each Year
- Photo Credit Plush Studios/DH Kong/Blend Images/Getty Images
- National Labor Relations Board: National Labor Relations Act
- Legal Information Institute: U.S. Code Title 29 Chapter 7 Subchapter II Section 164 -- Construction of Provisions
- United States Department of Labor: Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, as Amended
- Legal Information Institute: U.S. Code Title 45, Chapter 8 -- Railway Labor