As anticipated, the nationwide trend of enacting “right-to-work” (RTW) legislation has continued to grow – in the past few years alone, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Kentucky have joined the growing list of RTW states. In these states, and the approximately twenty others that have adopted RTW legislation, employers are prohibited from requiring employees to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. Although Missouri adopted RTW legislation in 2017, it is currently postponed and will be subject to a public vote in 2018.
Pundits have long claimed that over time, RTW laws tend to weaken a union’s bargaining power by slowing chipping away revenue and support from employees who do not wish to be represented and elect not to join the union. For example, Wisconsin – which was once among the strongest union states in the nation – has seen a drop in its private sector union membership from nearly 16% in 2009 to just 8.1% in 2016, which is below the national average hovering around 11%. Union membership has similarly dropped in most other RTW states over time.
Of course, RTW legislation does not prevent unionization of private sector workplaces. Employees still have the right of self-organization, the right to join, form, or assist labor organizations, and the right to engage in lawful, concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection. Additionally, employees who are in the bargaining unit but do not pay union dues are still entitled to all the same benefits under the labor contract as their dues-paying counterparts. Despite these protections under federal law, adoption of RTW legislation at the state level has been and continues to be welcome news for employers nationwide.