The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act allows state governments to determine whether workers can be forced to join a union, or pay union dues or fees, as a condition of employment. Right to Work laws guarantee workers can seek employment without fearing they will be required to join (or pay) a union if they are hired.
Currently, 27 states have adopted Right to Work laws, the most recent being Kentucky. The Missouri legislature also passed Right to Work during the 2018 session, but the law was challenged according to the state’s ballot initiative process and the issue will now be placed on the August 2018 primary ballot for consideration by Missouri voters. Pending a favorable result on the ballot, Missouri would become the 28th state with a Right to Work law in place.
• The right of all individuals to work without having to join a union, or pay union dues or fees, as a condition of employment.
• Any federal or state laws that require workers to join a union, or pay union dues or fees, as a condition of employment or as a condition of participating on a construction project procured by a federal, state or local government entity.
The purpose of Right to Work laws is not to eliminate unions, but rather to guarantee basic fairness for workers. Right to Work laws ensure workers have an opportunity to choose whether union representation makes sense for them. If all or most of the members of a bargaining unit believe union representation will advance their interests, then nothing in a Right to Work law inhibits them from exercising their federally protected right to organize a union and collectively bargain with their employer. Right to Work laws simply allow workers who do not want to participate in the union to opt out of joining the union or paying dues or fees.
Americans have shown overwhelming support for Right to Work measures. In a 2014 Gallup poll, 71 percent of respondents said they would support such a law if given the opportunity. The poll also found that 82 percent of Americans agreed that “no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will.”
Many state leaders believe Right to Work laws could be a key to jumpstarting economic growth in the wake of the recession. Economic growth in Right to Work states often outpaces growth in states where workers are forced to join a union or pay a fee to organized labor as a condition of employment. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports private sector employment grew 5.2 percent faster (2003-2013) in Right to Work states than in their non-Right to Work counterparts. Additionally, the Department of Commerce reports real gross domestic product growth in manufacturing increased 11.8 percent faster (2002- 2012) in Right to Work states than in non-Right to Work states. While some say these economic gains come at the expense of workers’ wages, Department of Commerce data shows per capita disposable personal income in 2013 (adjusted for cost of living) was higher in Right to Work states than the national average, as well as higher than non-Right to Work states.
Opponents of Right to Work laws claim the lack of compulsory unionization leads to a “free rider” problem in which unions must represent all workers in the bargaining unit, so workers who choose not to pay union fees are given free representation. This argument fails to recognize the right of organized labor to negotiate member-only contracts, or to simply not represent those who choose not to join the union. Unions dislike these types of contracts because they allow individual workers to negotiate their own employment agreements with management; not representing all workers in the bargaining unit reduces the union’s leverage against the employer.