The term “Right to Work State” denotes a name of reference assigned to any U.S. state, which has enacted the “Right to Work” legislation. A “right-to-work” law is a statute in the US that disallows employers and employees from discussions and negotiations in order to make an agreement (Union security agreement or agreement between labor unions and workers) that needs all workers who get benefits of a joint bargaining agreement and to pay their share of the costs of representing them (Cooper, 2010). This means that no individual can be coerced to be part of a labor union or coerced to contribute dues as a stipulation of employment. The “Right-to-work” laws do not aim to provide a general employment guarantee to individuals looking for employment, but rather are a federal’s directive of the contractual agreements between employers and labor unions that prohibits them from sidelining non-union workers.
In states lacking the “Right-to-Work Laws,” the workers could be obligated to join a labor union on the condition that it is representing employees in that sector of employment (Cooper, 2010). The employees who decline the idea of joining such a union may still be required to pay for their representation because they stand to benefit from the union’s efforts of wage negotiations. On the other hand, these laws do not protect individuals working in the railway industry or airline industry and those working in the federal community.
The “Right to Work” states give employees living in them the right to resign from their association with a union at whichever time (Cooper, 2010). If an employee resigns from their membership, they are disallowed from taking further participation in the union’s activities such as meetings or elections and they are also free from disciplinary measures by the union for any post-resignation demeanor. While resignation may be presented at any time, such an employee may be restricted to the window period before the employer and the union get in touch and set an end to the regular dues deductions. The employee’s free will of preference is protected under the U.S. Federal Labor Law and in the provisions of the Right to Work laws.
The “Right-to-Work” laws require that the unions have to represent each eligible worker, even if they pay their dues or not. This implies that employees can still get the benefits of being members of the union even when they decline payment. It also means that should a worker who does not pay their dues get fired by their employer; the union must step in and use the union’s resources to defend them, even if the legal process could be a time-consuming and costly affair. Given that the union represents everyone, everyone stands to benefit, and individuals who are not satisfied with the service have a right to sue the union (Cooper, 2010). In summary, unions are required under the provisions of the federal law to fairly represent all employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement that protects and profits both members and nonmembers.
Currently, there are twenty-four states that have enacted the “Right-to-Work” laws and they include, Florida -1943, Arkansas – 1944, Arizona & Nebraska – 1946, eight states in 1947 (Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia), Nevada – 1951, Alabama – 1953, Mississippi – 1954, South Carolina – 1954, Utah – 1955, Kansas – 1958, Wyoming – 1963, Louisiana – 1976, Oklahoma – 2001, Ohio – 2011, Indiana – 2012, Michigan -2012. These states have given their workers a choice on their membership to unions; therefore, they cannot be compelled to become members as a requirement for their profession (Abraham & Voos, 2000).
History of the “Right to the Work States”
The right-to-work catchphrase originated from the verdict of the United States Supreme Court on the Dent v/s West Virginia case, which resolved that the American people had the fundamental right to seek gainful employment of their choice. The Supreme Court prohibited state legislatures from actions that could deprive or regulate the peoples’ occupation.
The “Right-to-Work” was politicized after the enactment of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which saw congress giving statutory sanction to Organized Labor to fire workers who refused to join a union. Some citizens first responded at the level of the state in the 1940s, when the wartime policies of the Roosevelt Administration started putting pressure on businesses to comply with the forced unionization of their workers (Abraham & Voos, 2000).
In a span of a decade, twelve states had passed the “Right-to-Work” laws that prohibited forced union membership and forced payments in terms of dues as a condition for employment. Before 1947, the “Right-to-Work” legislation was not possible but this changed with the enactment of the Taft-Hartley Act that prohibited “closed shop.” The idea of closed shop aimed at restricting employment to union members only; thereby, requiring membership to the unions as a requirement for employment (Cooper, 2010). Under the new open shop regulations, workers were protected if they wanted to join a union and were allowed to individually decide whether they needed to join the union or just work regardless of union membership.
The “Right-to-Work” as a self-employed individual came under regulatory attack during the twentieth century when a majority of the states enacted laws that required licensing, testing, and some additional arbitrary educational requirements. For instance, the prospective workers were required to donate thousands of hours working free or as low-paid interns before they would be allowed to work on the profession of choice.
The initial right-to-work laws were approved during the 1940s and 1950s, mainly in the Southern U.S. states, with the majority of the right-to-work laws being passed by statute but ten states implementing them through amendments of the constitution (Cooper, 2010). The 1970s and the nineties saw a surge in these laws but only a few states have implemented the laws, since its wave.
In the 1980s, the federal government prohibited people from different occupations from offering their services without an official license. It was widely felt that these laws were attempts by other existing professionals in the field to cut out the competition by restricting others from offering their services. This also implied that consumers’ choices were limited and the costs of getting the services were increased to the professionals’ own benefit. In response to this case, many entrepreneurs and activists, went to court to challenge the idea of licensing and won many cases that constitutionally secured their right to earn a living. For instance, such court cases won the right to work for the monks in Louisiana who trade in caskets, travel guides in Philadelphia and taxi motorists in Colorado.
In the 2012 legislative session, 19 states debated on the issue of the “Right-to-Work” laws but only four states implemented the laws. Two of the four states either established or extended the provisions of the “Right-to-Work” laws, while the remaining two states supplemented the “Right-to-Work” laws with the enforcement or new notice provisions. The “Right-to-Work” laws were implemented in twenty-one states in the 2013 legislation session and in the District of Columbia as well as in the United States Congress. Tennessee State stood out as the only state that passed legislation that prohibited a waiver of the rights to joining or desist from joining a union. On the other hand, Michigan implemented the “Right-to-Work” laws, while the state of Indiana stretched out its “Right-to-Work” law provisions, to not only cover the school employees but also to cover all the employees in the private sector.
Arguments for and Against “Right to Work State”
With Michigan enacting the “Right to Work” laws and becoming the twenty-fourth state in the United States, there have been heated debates on the viability and the importance of these laws. There have been many misconceptions about these laws starting with the term itself but it is important that the American public understand that the laws do not guarantee anyone a job, neither protect an employee from unfair firing nor guarantee impartial wages and working conditions.
Arguments for “Right to Work State”
Supporters of the “Right to Work State” argue the laws make the state that implements them more attractive to investors and that the enactment will lead to growth in the employment sector. Whilst such a statement may be appealing to a state that is going through economic problems, the evidence can be disputed (Abraham & Voos, 2000). For instance, just like a known case of the state of Michigan, nearly all the other states in the union have lost manufacturing jobs in the last decade, but it is unclear if the job losses are related to the “Right to Work State” laws.
Another argument in support of the “Right to Work State” lies in the ideology of the liberty of workers, in that, people should not be forced to financially support any unions against their will. Individuals should have the freedom of association and no demands should be made on them to make sacrifices based on the benefits from a collective endeavor (Abraham & Voos, 2000). Coercion comes about when a person objects to the course, purpose or activities of the collective nature (union), but they are not able to hold back their support.
In the United States; for instance, workplaces may only be unionized if the majority of the workers (50% plus 1) in a bargaining unit petition for representation by a union. The “50% plus 1” method of resolve almost guarantees the availability of a minority group that is against the idea of a union (Cooper, 2010). Additionally, in many circumstances, an individual attains union coverage through employment acceptance at a workstation that is already unionized, without ever having an opportunity to vote for or against the idea of unionization.
In a non-right to work state, there might be an agreement between a labor union and an employer on a union security clause, which requires all the covered employees to pay dues that would be used to fund collective bargaining activities. In such circumstances, an individual willing to avoid payment of dues may resign from their jobs, negotiate and convince the leadership of unions for an open shop or persuade fellow employees to decertify the union. Due to the difficulty in attaining the last two options, the most viable and only option for the dissenters is to look for employment elsewhere.
Arguments against “Right to Work State”
The opponents of the “Right to Work State” have made arguments to attack and dilute the stronghold points of the proponents. The opponents argue that the supporters of the “Right to Work State” falsely proclaim that these laws protect the employees who are not interested in joining a union or the workers that disagree with a union’s politics (Abraham & Voos, 2000). The opponents argue that the protection of workers who refuse to join unions or contribute is already taken care of by the federal labor laws. They suggest that the true purpose f the “Right to Work State” is to thwart a union’s ability to advocate for all workers and function as a verifier of corporate greed.
Some of the opponents have expressed concern that the laws are not important because the absence of such laws does not deny anybody of the right to work. The management of a union is usually a costly affair given the processes involved in negotiating contracts and providing benefits to the members. If everyone was obligated in paying their dues, then these running costs shall be shared and be kept lower for all the members and there will be a sense that all the workers have equally invested in the union. If some workers have the choice of not paying and acting on that, there is likelihood of imbalance (Abraham & Voos, 2000). Given that the members and non-member workers are covered under the same contract, some workers shall effectively be getting those services of the union free of charge. It is the belief that this law just made employees become free riders and gain from communal bargaining. For instance, in Michigan, this law excluded police and firefighter unions, which clearly showed that the partisan’s interests were not considered but the business rewards.
The opponents believe that these laws lead to a reduction in wages for all workers, including the nonmembers. It is estimated that employees living in the “Right to Work” states earn approximately 1,500 dollars less than the employees in the non-right to work states do. There is also evidence that the effects of the wage penalty are more felt by the women and workers of color (Abraham & Voos, 2000). The workers in the states that embrace these laws are also less likely to acquire health insurance because the rate of employer-sponsored for workers is 2.6 percent lower compared to states without the laws(Cooper, 2010). It is also argued that the “Right to Work” states make the working conditions more dangerous to the employees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which estimates that, the rate of workplace mortality is 52.9 percent higher than the rates of workplace mortality in states without these laws (Cooper, 2010).
Discouraging workers’ unions only made working conditions worse for both employees and employers as far as commitment, safety, and health factors at the workplace are concerned. Consequently, these workers in right-to-work states end up settling for poor wages and this makes states unable to raise labor standards because they fear capital flight. Thus, unions view states with right-to-work laws as states that advocate the right to work for less and who are susceptible to losing their jobs while those without this law as free workers who can bargain as a group free of charge. Apparently, arguments have shown that groups of some business owners are the ones who opted to fight unions to benefit their businesses.
The opponents also argue that while the National Right to Work Committee has claimed to protect the low wage earners since the late 1970s, they were only formed to satisfy the interests of a group of southern businesspersons, whose sole purpose was to fight unions, and they only added a few workers for public relations purposes (Cooper, 2010).
States usually make location decisions and rate business factors in terms of the quality of the workforce, the regulatory environment and tax incentives before ever looking into considering the “Right to Work State” laws. Evidence also shows that high-tech companies that offer good remunerations prefer states that have a strong existence of unions to states without, because there is a general belief that unions offer a highly skilled workforce and at the same time reduce turnover.
These laws can have the power to reduce the wages of worker; therefore, can contribute to the loss of jobs in communities, which in turn hurts the economy of the state involved. Estimates by the Economic Policy Institute display that approximately six employees lose their jobs with every one million dollar cut in wages (Abraham & Voos, 2000). For instance, the state of Oklahoma has experienced a reversal of the early growth it had recorded in terms of manufacturing jobs, since the enactment of these laws in 2001. The “Right to Work” states do not improve the employment rates of people living in those states, as shown by evidence of a study of eight states that have enacted the laws having the highest unemployment rates. In accordance with the evidence presented by a report from Ohio University, the “Right to Work” laws in reality lead to a reduction in the employment rates of certain industries (Abraham & Voos, 2000).
Across many states, workers are facing a storm of legislative attacks on their freedom and right to form unions that can represent them for a collective bargain, which includes the “Right to Work” legislation. The “Right to Work” laws make it non-obligatory for employees protected by a union contract to cater for the expenses that the union incurs in the dispensation of their services of representation. Divergent from the claims of the proponents, the “Right to Work” laws offer o protection or economic benefits for the workers. Studies give evidence that this is a misleadingly titled law that aids in driving wages down, profits, and the general living standards for everybody. Further, there is also evidence that the “Right to Work” laws do not lead to job creation and improvement of the business climate in any given state, but rather, in reality, only serve to weaken unions. Due to the current conditions of a fragile economy, and the large number of people who are either unemployed or in low-wage employment, a “Right to Work State” will only contribute to further disheartenment of the uncertain circumstances of the thousands of working families.
Abraham, S. E., & Voos, P. B. (2000). Right-to-work laws: New evidence from the stock market. Southern Economic Journal, 67(2), 345-362. Retrieved from http://www.johnwcooper.com/papers/right-to-work-laws.pdf
Cooper, J. (2010). Effects of Right to Work Laws on Employees, Unions, and Businesses. Unions, and Businesses (March 8, 2004).