Explainer: What You Should Know About Right-to-Work Laws
Religion & Liberty Online

Explainer: What You Should Know About Right-to-Work Laws

Today Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation making Wisconsin the nation’s 25th right-to-work state. Here is what you should know about right-to-work laws:

What is a right-to-work law?

right-to-work laws are state laws that guarantee a person cannot be compelled to join or pay dues to a labor union as a condition of employment.

righttoworkWhy are right-to-work laws considered a matter of economic freedom?

Economic freedom exists when people have the liberty to produce, trade, and consume legitimate goods and services that are acquired without the use of force, fraud, or theft. Mandatory unionism violates a person’s economic freedom since it forces them to pay a portion of their income, as a condition of employment, to a third-party representative—even if they disagree with the aims, goals, or principles of the representative group.

What’s wrong with being forced to pay for union representation?
In many countries that have a state religion citizens are forced to pay a portion of their income to support the activities of the state-approved church. Most Americans recognize that being required to directly finance the sectarian and dogmatic activities of a religious organization they may not wish to be associated with is a violation of their freedom of association.

Similarly, Americans should not be forced to financially support unions that claim to their economic interest if they believe such organizations are engaging in activities (such as political campaigning) they disapprove of.

Aren’t right-to-work law anti-union?

Right-to-work laws do not impede workers from forming or joining unions. Several federal laws, especially the National Labor Relations Act, ensure that private sector workers have the right to choose whether they wish to be represented by a union. Right-to-work laws merely protect the individual’s right to free association within the sphere of employment. A union that is serving the best interest of its constituents should have no problem attracting and keeping members.

Don’t right-to-work laws cause “free rider” problems?

There is no free rider problem unless a union explicitly chooses to create free riders. As James Sherk explains:

Unions and their supporters argue that this unfairly forces them to represent workers who do not pay their share of collective-bargaining costs. They argue that right-to-work allows workers to enjoy the benefits of a union contract without paying for it. As Michigan state representative Tim Greimel told the Detroit News, “This really is not about so-called right-to-work or so-called freedom to work, it’s about freedom to freeload.”

That would be a fair point, if it were true. But it is not. The NLRA does not require unions to bargain as exclusive representatives. It enables them to do so — an important difference. Unions may bargain on behalf of every worker in the company. But the Supreme Court has ruled that the NLRA’s protections are “not limited to labor organizations which are entitled to recognition as exclusive bargaining agents of employees . . . ‘Members only’ contracts have long been recognized” (Retail Clerks v. Lion Dry Goods, 1962). Unions can negotiate contracts that apply only to dues-paying members and exclude non-dues-paying members. Their argument against right-to-work is untrue.

What states currently have right-to-work laws?

The 25 states with right-to-work laws are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

DS wisconsin 25th RTW state

Why should people that don’t work in companies with unions care about this issue?

Even those who aren’t concerned about their neighbor’s economic freedom should care about job creation. And the evidence is clear that right-to-work states create jobs at a faster rate than states without such laws. As Mark J. Perry of the American Enterprise Institute explains, since the recession ended in June 2009, more than two jobs have been created in right-to-work (RTW) states for every one job created in forced unionism states (2.16 million jobs in RTW states vs. 1.05 million jobs in forced unionism states).

And when you consider that the population of forced unionism states (141.4 million) is 1.38 times larger than the population of RTW states (102.6 million), that means that RTW states are creating jobs at almost three times ((2.16m / 1.05m) x 1.38) the pace as in forced unionism states. We could also say that forced unionism states would have created close to three million jobs (2.16 m x 1.38) if those states had added new jobs at the same rate as RTW states over the last three years, instead of the 1.05 million increase. In other words, there are about 2 million “missing jobs” in forced unionism states that have much to do with the politics of forced unionism.

The reason everyone should care about right-to-work laws is because they increase economic freedom, which in turn, increases employment and the quality of life of all Americans.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).