What is a right-to-work state?
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 27 states and the territory of Guam have right-to-work laws as of 2022. Existing federal right-to-work laws address government employees on the state and federal levels along with railroad and airline employees, while state laws address private and public unions equally.
Which states are right-to-work states? Here’s the full current list:
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
In right-to-work states, employees hired by a union shop can choose whether to join the union and pay union dues. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) prevents employers and others from compelling or forcing someone to join the union when they don’t want to. Workers who decide not to join the union don’t have to pay union dues even though they receive all the benefits negotiated during the union’s collective bargaining process. In other words, if some of your workers are union members and negotiate four weeks of vacation time, all your workers have to receive that perk.
If a union organizer approaches an employee in a right-to-work state to join the union, the employee has the legal right to refuse membership and payment of fees. According to the NLRA, if an employee finds that the union is taking out dues for union membership, they have the right to stop the withdrawals. However, in some cases, the union may require the employee to pay fees to receive certain protections and representation from union leadership. On the other hand, in non-right-to-work states, a union could require employees to join it and pay union dues.
Conflicting views on right-to-work laws
There are two main schools of thought about right-to-work laws. Labor and employment rights groups are united in their opposition to right-to-work laws. These organizations argue that giving employees the choice to join deprives the union of funding to pursue collective bargaining agreements and protect employees from unjust actions by employers.
Another issue is the perception that nonunion employees in right-to-work states are enjoying the results of the efforts made by the union without contributing financially. They’re placing the burden of union protection on the shoulders of a few for the benefit of many. Some view right-to-work laws as anti-union because they eliminate the major source of revenue for unions in the form of dues.
In comparison, proponents of right-to-work laws do not view their efforts as being specifically anti-union. Instead, they view mandatory union membership as a violation of personal freedoms and the First Amendment. They argue that unions are inherently political and tend to back a party or candidate as a monolithic entity, regardless of the individual union members’ political views. Another argument is that the union may use money from dues set aside for other uses for political purposes in violation of its original use.
The basics for employers about the list of right-to-work states
If you operate a business with union employees in a right-to-work state, it’s important to understand that you can’t force an employee to join the union and pay dues, nor can union stewards or leaders. However, nonunion employees are still entitled to union protection and representation. If a nonunion employee decides to engage in union representation during a grievance, they may have to pay for the cost of the representation.
Nonunion employees are also part of a bargaining unit, even though they’re not paying dues or maintaining membership. Right-to-work laws view union and nonunion employees who share a workplace as having similar interests when it comes to their working conditions.
As an employer, you have to treat union and nonunion members equally in regard to the conditions of their employment. All employees are entitled to enjoy the same benefits. For instance, you typically can’t refuse to give nonunion members the same benefits negotiated by the union for its members.
It’s highly recommended that you research and learn your state’s right-to-work law and how it applies to a union shop. If you’re not confident in your ability to interpret the laws, contact an attorney who works in employment law to get a clearer understanding.
Employers should pay special attention to right-to-work laws during these specific interactions with a current or prospective employee:
- During the hiring process in a right-to-work state, the union contract applies even to job candidates who decline union membership and do not pay union dues.
- When a union organizer contacts your employees, they can legally refuse union membership.
- The employer must compensate nonmember employees if it has deducted dues from their paychecks. If an employee resigns from the union, employers must stop dues deductions, although certain costs may still apply after resignation in some states or under certain types of union agreements.