The Right-to-Work Laws
Right-to-Work laws are probably some of the most controversial labor rules in the United States. This regulation amended the 1935 National Labor Relations Act so that closed shops ceased to be legal (Cihon & Castagnera, 2013). Additionally, it empowered states with the right to outlaw union and agency shop for employees working in their jurisdictions. Consequently, the right-to-work laws aimed at nullifying the requirement for workers to pay a fee to unions that have negotiated for contracts that govern their employment.
- What is the history of ‘Right to Work’ Laws?
In 1935, the government passed the National Labor Relations Act, generally referred to as Wagner Act, which provided that a firm should hire its employees using closed, union, agency, or open shop contracts (Cihon & Castagnera, 2013). In a closed shop contract, a worker is required to be a member of a union before he/she can be employed and if the individual ceases from being a member, the employer should fire him/her. A union shop allows the hiring of non-union members on condition that they will join it within a short period of employment. An agency shop, on the other hand, obliges a worker to pay the equivalent of the cost of representation to a union without the requirement for him/her to join it. Finally, an open shop does not compel an employee to join or pay representation costs to a union. Additionally, a worker has the right to accede to the union in future.
The right-to-work law was first introduced into the United States after the passing of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 by President Harry Truman. This regulation is also known as the Taft-Harley Act, and it repealed sections of the Wagner Act including revocation of closed shops and authorization of individual states to abolish union and agency shops (Dau-Schmidt, Malin, Corrada, Cameron, & Fisk, 2014). Therefore, the right-to-work laws empowered workers to decide whether they want to become members of a union, but it weakened the latter by denying them unlimited access to employee’s contributions.
The slogan right-to-work comes from the United States Supreme Court ruling in the Dent v. West Virginia ruling case it stated that Americans have the right to pursue employment of their choice. The name ‘right-to-work” was coined by William B. Ruggles, who reinterpreted the term to mean the right to work in unionized business without paying dues (Dau-Schmidt et al., 2014).Therefore, the name originates from the Supreme Court’s ruling and Ruggles definition of its meaning.
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of the right-to-work laws?
The right-to-work has both its benefits and disadvantages; which have made this law to become popular in most states. Since its enactment, 28 states have installed this law, which has enabled their members to decide whether they will contribute to certain unions merely because they represent their interests (Pasulka, 2012). According to the proponents of the right-to-work regulations, these rules enhance minority rights and increase freedom of association. On the contrary, its opponents argue that it leads to free riders and limits freedom of association.
Right-to-work promotes the interests of minorities to exercise their will of not joining unions or contributing to their agendas. The Wagner Act limited employees’ right of deciding whether or not they wanted to associate with a specific union (Pasulka, 2012). Moreover, the fact that an employee has benefited from a union’s action does not necessarily mean that the individual was in support of such a movement. For example, a worker may have opposed a union’s decision to call for a strike which resulted in employees getting a salary increase. Therefore, the right-to-work laws are important since they allow workers only to join and contribute to unions which they support.
The right-to-work also enables employees to exercise their freedom of association by giving them the freedom to join or refrain from a union. The Wagner Act led to forced unionism because it compelled all employees who were not members of unions to contribute to them (Cihon & Castagnera, 2013). Therefore, the compulsory collective bargaining in Wagner Act was, in fact, financial coercion and a violation of employee’s freedom of choice.
The opponents of right-to-work assert that it promotes cases of free riders where workers benefit from the actions of unions without contributing to the collective bargaining. In particular, they note that employees’ groups are the exclusive collective bargaining agents for all employees, and consequently have the duty to represent all persons fairly (Dau-Schmidt et al., 2014). They observe that to facilitate fair representation, all individuals should pay the cost of their representation even if they are not members of a union.
Some people argue that right-to-work restricts freedom of association and limits the negotiation power of employees. In particular, the inability to agree to contracts that provide for an equitable share of fees reduces the ability of individuals to negotiate for better working conditions (Pasulka, 2012). This freedom also contravenes the American laws requiring fair representation on unions by enabling non-members to force the former to provide them grievance services that are paid by its members. Therefore, these laws are not fair since they impose a heavy financial burden on unions.
- What are your observations of the right-to-work laws?
In my opinion, right-to-work laws are ethically sound and improve the welfare of employees and employers. However, these laws frustrate and undermine workers’ unions. In the current competitive business environment, too much mobilization and strikes, which are typically led by unions, can adversely affect economies and the attractiveness of an area as an investment center (Twomey, 2012). Firstly, a constant call for strikes by unions negatively affects the operations of an employer since he/she has to close his/her business and listen to the former’s grievances. Since right-to-work enables individuals to have jobs while not contributing to unions, this law weakens the latter and reduces their power to impose their decisions on companies. As a result, these laws create a conducive work environment for firms to operate.
The convergence of all employees under a union makes the latter to have a monopoly on the supply of labor (Dau-Schmidt et al., 2014). Consequently, an employer has to adhere to their terms or close his/her business. This form of coercion on entrepreneurs normally makes regions with strong workers’ groups unattractive for investment. Furthermore, most unions are always seeking for an increase in employees’ salaries and benefits, at times above what is economically reasonable. In such circumstances, investors are usually forced to relocate their businesses to areas where individuals make independent decisions regarding the terms of their employment. In the long-term, having strong unions that have sweeping powers results in loss of jobs in their jurisdictions because firms close down or relocate to other areas.
The right-to-work laws facilitate the formation of a work environment where employees’ salaries and benefits are strictly based on their productivity and demand for their labor (Pasulka, 2012). Consequently, businesses offer employees the best salaries based on their skills and states attract investors since their labor rules are friendly and accommodative. Furthermore, some thoughts and agendas that are promoted by unions are at times not loved by all workers. Therefore, it is appropriate for individuals to have the right of deciding whether they want to be members of unions or not.
- What is your prediction for ‘Right to Work’ laws in America?
In the future, all states in America will have to establish the right-to-work laws. Since activities that occur outside the United States affect its local business environment, the country will have to implement these laws to remain competitive. Currently, strong unions in some states have led to the establishment of restrictive labor laws, which have discouraged entrepreneurs from establishing businesses. Moreover, some companies that were in such areas have even relocated to states or countries that have lenient regulations. Regions with lenient labor laws enable firms to reduce their operating costs and in turn make huge profits. Consequently, all states will inevitably have to implement the right-to-work so to become attractive investment destination
Cihon, P., & Castagnera, J. (2013). Employment and labor law (8th ed.). New York, NY: South-Western College.
Dau-Schmidt, K., Malin, M., Corrada, R., Cameron, C., & Fisk, C. (2014). Statutory supplement to labor law in the contemporary workplace (2nd ed.). St. Paul, MN: West Academic Publishing.
Pasulka, N. (2012, March 16). Right-to-work laws, explained. Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/03/what-are-right-to-work-laws/
Twomey, D. (2012). Labor and employment law: Text and cases (15tth ed.). Chul Vista, CA: South-Western College.