What States Are a Right to Work State?

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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.

Right-to-Work 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.

Read More: What Is the Right to Work Law?

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.



About the Author

Steve McDonnell's experience running businesses and launching companies complements his technical expertise in information, technology and human resources. He earned a degree in computer science from Dartmouth College, served on the WorldatWork editorial board, blogged for the Spotfire Business Intelligence blog and has published books and book chapters for International Human Resource Information Management and Westlaw.

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