The Right-to-Work Resurgence
Not to be confused with at-will employment, right-to-work laws are spreading
again, so make sure you understand them.
Twenty-eight states now have right-to-work laws, which give
U.S. workers a choice about whether
to join a union and pay membership
dues. In states without such legislation, employers and unions can agree
to require workers in a bargaining unit
to either join the union or pay certain
fees within a specified time after their
So what does this mean for HR professionals? The bottom line is that they
need to monitor developments in the
places where their organizations do business, employment attorneys say.
If you work in a state where a right-to-work law has recently passed, make
sure you understand the parameters of
the legislation and how it impacts current collective bargaining agreements
(CBAs), says Jonathan Spitz, an attorney
with Jackson Lewis in Atlanta.
If your business is in a place where
these laws are being debated, keep your
finger on the pulse of the workforce.
It’s a good idea to train managers on
how to handle tension in the workplace when employees have conflicting
views on the issue, says James Plunkett,
an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in
Prior to the mid-1940s, employers and
unions could form agreements that
required organizations to hire only
union members. The Labor Management Relations Act of 1947—
commonly known as the Taft-Hartley Act—
allowed states to outlaw these so-called
closed shops. But federal law still permits
union security agreements that force
employees to either become members or
pay certain fees.
For example, a CBA could state that
employees must join the union or pay
fees within 30 days of being hired.
Seventeen states invoked the Taft-Hartley Act to put an end to these
arrangements in the 1940s and 1950s
by adopting right-to-work laws, and a
few more followed suit over the next
50 years, mostly in the South and the
Then, starting in 2012, there
appeared to be renewed interest in the
topic. Since then, Midwestern states such
as Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin
have approved right-to-work measures.
West Virginia became a right-to-work
state in 2016, and Kentucky and Missouri did the same in 2017.
The New Hampshire Legislature
has debated such laws for years. Most
recently, a bill passed the state Senate in
2017 but wasn’t approved by the House
A federal bill was also introduced in
2017—though the issue may not be a priority this year and similar measures have
failed in the past.
Still, the national right-to-work discussion will continue, and there’s a real
possibility that the issue will gain traction, Spitz says.
Pros and Cons
Federal labor law requires unions to represent all workers in a bargaining unit,
even if they don’t become members.
That means that any benefits the union
negotiates, such as lower health care premiums, extra vacation days or higher
wages, will apply to everyone.
Labor organization leaders would
likely say they face an economic
By Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP