Pros and Cons of Right to Work

Right-to-Work Laws vs. Right to Work Without Union Fees

Union worker
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Photo skeeze/Pixabay

Right-to-work laws have been enacted by more than half of the U.S.states. These laws should not be confused with the provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act, which prohibit agreements between labor unions and employers that require union membership for employees. Under the Taft-Hartley Act, employees have the same right to employment whether or not they are members of a union. However, the Act does allow for unions to require that non-union employees pay for non-political union initiatives from which all employees may benefit.

Right-to-work laws enacted by states prohibit this payment requirement in certain industries.

The Taft-Hartley Act

Passed in 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act remains the cornerstone of United States labor law today. This act amended the Wagner Act of 1935, which reflects the attitudes of post-World War II America towards labor. Due to "national emergency" strikes during the war, postwar strikes, and the advantages given to unions by the Wagner Act, a Republican-controlled Congress passed the Act in an attempt to restore the balance of power between labor and management. The Act restricts the activities of unions in four ways by:

  1. Prohibiting unfair labor practices by unions
  2. Listing the rights of employees who are union members
  3. Listing the rights of employers
  4. Empowering the president of the United States to suspend labor strikes that may constitute a national emergency

Right-to-Work Laws

Many argue that the Taft-Hartley Act is the original "right-to-work" law because it ensures that prospective employees cannot be barred from employment if they choose not to belong to a union. Therefore, the right to work is not an issue. The true bone of contention in the right-to-work debate is whether non-union employees should be forced to pay fees for some union activity, such as collective bargaining and union protection, from which they may benefit.

Taft-Hartley requires that all employees at a company must receive the same benefits of union activity whether or not they belong to the union. For example, if a union negotiates a pay raise for its members, the employer must give the same pay raise to its non-union employees. In many industries, non-union employees are required to pay an "agency fee" as compensation for the union benefits ensured by Taft-Hartley. However, they are not required to pay for the union's political activities—fees that are included in the regular dues for union members.

The Right-to-Work Debate

In the current political climate, right-to-work laws aim to bar employers or unions from requiring payment of any union-related fees from non-union employees. Supporters of the laws argue that requiring payments inhibits economic growth and can make some companies or industries less attractive to prospective employees. They also feel that forcing workers to pay fees simply because they work in an industry or company with a strong union presence is an infringement on their freedom.

Opponents of right-to-work laws affirm that it's unfair for non-union employees to reap the benefits of union activity without paying fees, while their fellow employees who belong to the union support that same activity with their union dues.

On a larger political level, it is argued that right-to-work laws diminish the influence and financial power of unions and therefore the unions can provide less support for political candidates and initiatives. Because unions typically support Democratic politicians, many believe that right-to-work laws (which are typically backed by Republicans) are aimed at weakening support for Democrats, particularly at the state level.