Missouri’s new Republican governor has indicated that he fully supports right-to-work legislation, which failed to get past previous governor Jay Nixon in its last go-round. With that being the case, what would a right-to-work law mean for the employers in the state who have collective bargaining agreements with labor organizations?
First, right-to-work legislation does not result in any collective bargaining agreement suddenly being null and void. It is a very limited, surgical deletion of the union security clause from contracts. And, while we do not know exactly what the law may provide, it will likely be something along the lines of previous legislation. In other words, it will provide that any union security clause will be null and void and no employee shall be required to pay any dues or fees or similar charges to any labor organization as a condition of employment.
Accordingly, if an employee is not a union member and has not signed a dues check-off authorization card, the employer can cease deducting dues from the employee’s paycheck when the right-to-work law takes effect. However, an employer’s legal obligation is different if any employee has signed a valid dues check-off authorization card as such authorizations will likely be enforced, as a separate lawful agreement between the employee and the union. The reason is that even after the effective date of a right-to-work law, an employer who has agreed to a dues check-off provision in the collective bargaining agreement may have a contractual obligation to continue to remit monthly dues to the union for employees who have signed dues check-off authorizations. However that provision can be revoked.
The National Labor Relations Act provides some guidance in terms of the revocation process. In particular, it permits employers to deduct monies for dues “provided that the employer has received from each employee on whose account such deductions are made a written assignment which shall not be irrevocable for a period of more than one year or beyond the termination of the applicable collective bargaining agreement, whichever is sooner.” Hence, while there may be an ongoing obligation beyond the effective date of the right-to-work legislation, there is a process for employees to revoke that authorization at a later point in time and not be responsible for any dues going forward.
The end result is that without financial support from a majority of the employees a union may simply walk away from the collective bargaining agreement they have with an employer as it simply is not cost effective to maintain the relationship. Hence while right-to-work legally only impacts union security and dues check-off, from a practical standpoint it may result in a defacto decertification of the union.