The Right-to-Work in the US

Logically, the right-to-work concept appears to mean a job assurance or entitlement to maintain a job once you get it. On the contrary, the right-to-work concept implies that a worker may work in the unionized workplace without joining a union or contributing monthly fees to the labor organization. The right-to-work concept also demands that workers who are members of a specific labor organization can terminate their membership from such an organization at will and still keep their job. However, even after such members terminate their membership from the labor organization, the union must provide fair and equal representation if the union forms part company bargaining unit. The right-to-work policies also prohibit workers from submitting union fees as criteria of promotion or as a ground of retrenchment. The policies also illegalize contracts between employers and unions, especially those meant to force the workers into union membership. The right-to-work principle practically requires unionized corporates or working place to adopt open shops strategy, where joining union membership is optional, in contrast to the traditional closed shop, where workers needed to join a union while working in a unionized company. Even if the regular fees are not deducted from non-union workers’ paychecks, non-union workers are also covered by the labor organization. However, they might be needed to cater for union representation fees, to represent them in cases such as demanding employee rights on their behalf when specific cases occur. Though the right-to-work policies are enshrined in the USA Constitution, the policies remain controversial. Various researches have indicated that right-to-work policies have both advantages and disadvantages.   

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Origin of Right to Work Principle

There are many existing historical records of the right-to-work principle in the United States of America. All issues towards this principle started in 1935 when the National Labor Relation Act, commonly referred to as the Wagner Act, was passed (Joustra, 2017). The Federal Labor Relations Act was one of the major concerns of President Roosevelt’s second new deal. The deal’s primary targets was to upgrading the national natural resource utilization, improving employment security, caring for the aged, improving healthcare, and terminating the slums in towns. The Wagner Act was clear on the corporates that they lawfully agreed to be classified as closed, open, urgent, or union shops.  In the category of closed shops, employees were supposed to belong to a particular union as part of employment (Joustra, 2017). The termination of union membership of any employees for any reason, whether by dismissal from the union or due to failure to pay union fees, meant that the employees were to lose their job immediately, even if they violated none of the employer’s rules. The open shop category stated that the employees did not have to join any union or pay regular registration union fees. Every individual was protected from dismissal by employers if they chose to register with any union (Joustra, 2017). With the urgency shops, an employee had to hire a union for representation, in cases such as demanding employee rights on their behalf when specific cases occur. Nevertheless, they were limited to join the union. In the union shop group, the employers were free to get non-union employees as long as they promised to join a union within a given time.

The Republicans extremely criticized the Wagner Act. The Republicans claimed that the policy infringed employees’ rights and other fundamental freedom (Joustra, 2017). The clause that appeared more controversial was the section demanding employees to contract a labor union, thus forcing each employee to pay their regular union fees. The Republicans also alleged that the National Labor Relations Act offered labor unions excessive power to be manipulated by both the state government and federal government. These allegations pushed the Republicans to oppose the bill vehemently during the Congress meetings and began drafting another act to control the consequences of The National Labor Act, which they called the Labor Management Relations Act or Taft–Hartley Act. The Taft-Hartley Act maintained some of the Wagner Act sections, like the closed shop section. The Taft-Hartley Act also offered the individual state the freedom to outlaw the urgency together with union shops for employees employed within their home states (Joustra, 2017). All regulations illegalizing such situations are referred to as the right-to-work legislation. 

 Current Status of the Right-to-Work Principles

Nowadays, there are currently 24 states in the United States of America that have adopted the right-to-work principles. The legislation that allows the states to enact the right-to-work legislation is known as the Federal Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 (Cebula et al., 2020). Currently, there is no right-to-work legislation that exists at the federal level. The bill known as National Right-to-Work Act was initiated in the House of Representatives on February 1st, 2017, in an attempt to establish federal right-to-work law, but it has not progressed since its introduction (Bono-Lunn, 2019). A similar bill was introduced in the Senate on February 14th, 2019, but it also failed to progress further (Bono-Lunn, 2019). Currently, the right-to-work laws exist only at the state level. However, the Labor Management Relations Act that permits the states to formulate the right-to-work rules does not allow local jurisdiction, such as counties and cities within the state, to develop their individual right-to-work laws. The attempt to enact such laws in states like Illinois and Delaware has been failed. However, the Circuit Court of Appeal in 2016 upheld the municipal government’s right to enact their individual right-to-work laws in Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan, as well as Kentucky (Bono-Lunn, 2019). Most of the states that have adopted Taft–Hartley Act have either incorporated the act in their legislation or enacted the policies that enforce the Labor Management Relations Act.

Proponent and Opponent of the Right-to-Work Arguments

Despite the rising number of states enacting the right-to-work law, the issue of the right-to-work is still controversial. The advocates of the right-to-work laws apply the freedom of association to support their idea that no employee should be forced to join a labor union unwillingly. The freedom of association allows the employees to choose the groups and individuals they want to associate with (Weinrib, 2017). The advocates of the right-to-work laws perceive non-right-to-work states as advocates for forced unionism. Such proponents argue that the employees should not be forced to join collective bargaining financial organizations whose management they never voted into office. The advocates of the right-to-work principles also feel that it is unfair for labor unions to force employees to enter into agreements with labor organizations by forcing them to sign labor organization security agreements as an employment requirement. In a case between the United States v. Schechter poultry, the Supreme Court also ruled against forced trade union membership, stressing that forcing employees to join labor unions against their violates their freedom of choice (Weinrib, 2017). The judges also retaliated that the law was obnoxious, as it provides the majority with unwarranted control over the affairs of the unwilling minority. The court also indicates that forcing employees to join labor unions interferes with their basic fundamental freedoms as well as rights provided in the Fifth Amendments of the United States of America Constitution. The proponents of the right-to-work laws emphasize that these laws are essential since they promote employees’ fundamental freedom and rights provided in the USA Constitution. 

The proponents of the right-to-work also urge that the right-to-work laws significantly affect the US economy. The report has indicated that labor unions collect more than $4.5 billion in union fees. The money is directed into unreported federal and state campaigns with the aim to control the congress majority. These activities do not promote the United States economy’s growth. With more than $4.5 billion collected annually, these funds can be invested in viable economic enterprise schemes instead of being channeled into political activities. During the great economic recession of 2007 to 2010, the United States of America experienced high unemployment rates as well as business entities’ collapsing. The research has shown that the states that had adopted the right-to-work laws experienced a 1% lower employment rate than states that have not adopted the legislation (Weinrib, 2017). While the unemployment rate was raging around 9.6% in non-right-to-work states, their counterpart right-to-work states’ unemployment rate ranged around 8.6%. The proponents of the right-to-work laws argue that unions’ package benefits compensations contributed to the collapse of businesses during the economic recession. Such collapsing of businesses led to the reduction of the employment rate in non-right-to-work states. The federal right-to-work committee has also demonstrated that households in the right-to-work states experience better living standards than their fellow neighbors in non-right-to-work states. The national labor statistics have also demonstrated the increased agricultural as well as manufacturing jobs in the right-to-work states than non-right-to-work states. They have also shown that the rate of employee retrenchment is lower in the right-to-work states than their counterparts. It is reported that General Motors transferred its production to Michigan due to its right-to-work legislation (Weinrib, 2017). The right-to-work laws tend to attract investors and businesses into states that are less characterized by incessant protests initiated by labor unions to promote the US economy.  

Those who oppose the right-to-work principle feel that the term “right-to-work” is a misnomer one with the aim to harm trade unions. The opponents also argue that the right-to-work laws are unfair to trade unions since the employees who are not members of these unions enjoy collective bargaining benefits attained by these unions for free. The right-to-work legislation imposes an artificial burden on the trade union, affecting the labor union fee rates that labor organization members contribute. Depriving financial strength of labor unions incapacitate these unions in their effort to improve working environment conditions for the employees. By suppressing trade unions, the right-to-work states are drifting to low wages and poor environmental working conditions. The opponents of the right-to-work principles feel that these laws are unjust to both employees as well as trade unions.

The opponents of the right-to-work laws also feel that these laws have a negative impact on the employees’ and labor unions’ welfare. The wages in states that have enacted the right-to-work legislation are 3.2% lower than those of their counterparts (Weinrib, 2017). On average, the right-to-work states employees earn $1,500 less than typical employees in non-right-to-work states. Most opponents argue that the right-to-work legislation is misleading since it neither grants employment nor protects staff from poor working conditions as well as unfair job termination. The right-to-work legislation also interferes with labor union activities, denying employees appropriate employment contracts under labor organization security agreements. The right-to-work legislation has been attributed to poor health conditions, low working environmental status, as well as employee poverty in the right-to-work states. The critics of the right-to-work laws dispute the statistics raised by the federal right-to-work committee, arguing that Hispanics in the non-right-to-work states earn $250 dollars more than their fellow Hispanics in the right-to-work states (Weinrib, 2017). The labor laws are meant to safeguard the middle-class employee from economic oppression, but the right-to-work laws interfere with the activities of labor unions, which acts as the essential tool to protect middle-class employees from economic oppression by employers.

Advantages of Right-to-Work Laws

Despite the controversial issues surrounding the right-to-work laws, studies have shown that such legislation has many benefits. For example, it prohibits issues of employees losing their jobs at the cost of union issues. It frees the workers from supporting labor unions with contracts that harm them. The right-to-work laws have reduced employees’ intimidation by labor union organizations, as they prohibit these unions from imposing restrictions on people when they fail to pay their dues. The research has also shown that the right-to-work laws improve employee satisfaction (Erin et al., 2019). The reason for this satisfaction is that the right-to-work laws enhance the employees–employer relationship and inspire unions to provide their members with better services. The laws enable employees to check on labor unions since they can terminate their membership when they are not happy with the union’s action.  

The right-to-work laws also protect the labor organizations from being used in supporting activities that employees oppose. In non-right-to-work states, employees are required to pay around 1 to 2% of their income each month to support the union’s representative benefit that they provide (Eren et al., 2019). If employees fail to contribute such union fees, there is a great possibility that they would lose their jobs in non-right-to-work states. The research has shown that most employees oppose unions and their political stances, but rejecting the plan does not guarantee investment for their fee. For instance, during the 2016 election, most labor organizations advocated for Democratic candidates, but more than 70% of their members elected the Republican candidate (Feigenbaum et al., 2018). In right-to-work states, the scenarios of unions acting against employees’ will are not common since the unions adhere to the will of employees, or they terminate their membership.     

 The right-to-work laws also attract more foreign and domestic investment. This is because the states with union contract restrictions require fewer investment capital to start operations. Corporations of all sizes around the world and the United States target the states where the right-to-work laws are active for their investment activities. The studies have shown that the main reason why Boeing opted to expand in South Carolina instead of advancing their properties in the Seattle region was that the existence of the right-to-work laws in South Carolina made it cheaper to conduct business there (Feigenbaum et al., 2018). When foreign automobile corporates began manufacturing vehicles in the USA, most of them established their facilities in states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee due to their right-to-work legislation. The increase in FDA in Oklahoma and Idaho is also connected to this law (Feigenbaum et al., 2018). In this way, the right-to-work laws produce a conducive working environment for businesses and attract investors.   

The right-to-work laws also enhance more competition in companies. The states where such legislation is practiced often experience more economic growth, especially during the initial years of this changeover. Such benefit is due to employees’ ability to take charge in their income bidding process instead of depending on labor organization. Instead of workers being subjected to follow along with the voice of the masses, they become the advocates of themselves. Such structure provides them with more opportunities because individuals can work hard and earn incomes that portray their effort. It means that employees would no longer be bound by collective bargaining terms that prioritize seniority and experience over quality to determine wages structure as well as promotions.

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Limitations of Right to Work Laws

The right-to-work regulations are also associated with various limitations. Such legislation causes labor organizations to lose money when employees are not compelled to pay the union dues. Although the right-to-work laws do not prohibit employees from joining unions, they strongly demotivate them from becoming union members since they can still enjoy representation benefits without paying for them. The research had shown that when Idaho and Oklahoma enacted these laws, they experienced a 15% union membership reduction (Feigenbaum et al., 2018). Also, since the law require a nonunion employee to be represented by the union if it is part of that corporate bargaining unit, the union may be forced to represent employees at their own cost.  In this way, the membership withdrawal from unions may affect the labor union’s financial situation and its ability to negotiate for special benefits, better wages, as well as other needs.

 Another limitation of the right-to-work laws is that they cannot eliminate lobbyists completely. One of the main objectives of right-to-work laws was to curtail lobbyists that actively campaign using the finances of the unions. The main issue with this approach is that other lobbyists started to advocate the opposite agenda. Such lobbyists include The National Right-To-Work Committee and the Legal Defense Foundation (Cebula et al., 2020). Part of these organizations’ funds come from the government or taxpayer’s money. Funding lobbyists’ grants that advocate the right to work with taxpayers has no difference from having union fees supporting the same activities.

 The right-to-works legislation also limits employees’ benefits. The research has indicated that when the right-to-work legislation started regulating the employment contracts, around 2.5% employers decided not to provide health insurance benefits to their employees (Feigenbaum et al., 2018). Pension rates benefits in comparable positions are also 5% less. The studies have also shown that funds spent for education assistance, career advances, and other general development expenses are less in right-to-work states. According to the research conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a rate of job-associated injuries is 50% more in right-to-work states than in other places (Feigenbaum et al., 2018). The lack of benefit may cause companies’ safety problems despite the availability of best regulations, practices, as well as other useful guidelines.

Lastly, the right-to-work legislation declines the impact of employees’ voices. Although the right-to-work enables the workers to focus on their personal voice instead of developing group voice with their fellow colleagues, the average employee who lacks strong leadership skills might be ignored when they request promotion, raise, or appropriate working conditions. It means that benefits in any negotiation would only be with those in charge instead of individuals who are carrying out the work.


All in all, the right-to-work principles require the employees to join labor at will. The laws also outline that employment should not be tied to unionism. Right-to-work laws trace their background from the National Labor Relation Act or the Wagner Act. The proponents of right-to-work laws cite Freedom of Association as a collective and individual right that international and local laws have guaranteed. In the United States Constitution, the law is provided by Article 11 of the Bill of Rights. In international law, the right is provided in Articles 20 to 23 of the Human Rights Universal Declaration. The right-to-work laws allow the employees to leave and join groups independently without being subjected to coercion or intimidation. The opponents of the right-to-work laws feel that the legislation is unfair since it enables the employees to benefit from labor organization achievements without paying union fees. The right-to-work laws are also associated with various benefits and limitations to both employees as well as the economy.

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