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Right-to-work laws are statutes enforced in several US States, which prohibit several types of deals between employers and unionized employees, such as union security. "Closed shops", "union shops" and "agency shops" are forbidden, and "open shops" are enforced. Supporters of "right-to-work" laws claim that such laws give employees the right to work without joining a union. Opponents argue that the laws prevent free contracts between unions and business owners, making it harder for unions to organize and less attractive for people to join a union. They call these laws "work-for-less" or "right-to-shirk" laws.
"Closed shops", "union shops" "agency shops" and "open shops"
Prior to the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, passed by the Congress over then-President Harry S. Truman's veto in 1947, unions and employers covered by the National Labor Relations Act could lawfully agree to a "closed shop", in which employees were required to be members of the union as a condition of employment. Under the law in effect before the Taft-Hartley amendments, an employee who ceased being a member of the union for whatever reason, from failure to pay dues to expulsion from the union as an internal disciplinary punishment, could also be fired.
The Taft-Hartley amendments prohibit the "closed shop", but permit the "union shop", which requires all employees to join the union after a minimum period of at least thirty days after their hire, with different rules for construction unions and employers. A union may enforce a union shop agreement by demanding that the employer fire any employees who have failed to pay the regularly required dues and fees necessary to maintain their membership in the union; it does not, on the other hand, permit a union to demand that the employer discharge an employee who has been expelled from membership for any other reason. The "union shop" is effectively the same as the "agency shop", which requires employees to pay the equivalent of union dues, but does not require them to formally join the union.
Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act goes farther and authorizes individual states to outlaw the union shop and agency shop for employees working in their jurisdictions. Only the states have the power to pass such legislation; a city or county in a state that has not adopted a right-to-work statute has no power to pass a local ordinance outlawing the union shop.
Arguments for and against right-to-work laws
The opponents of right-to-work laws argue that they are essentially anti-union laws. The ability of non-union employees to benefit from collective bargaining without paying dues creates a free rider problem, allowing employees to leave (or not join) a union while still benefiting from the actions of that union, thus making union activities less sustainable. Levels of unionization are typically much lower in right-to-work states, and in some cases so are average wages and the cost of living.
Job fatalities average about 30% higher in these states than the rest of the country, and 15 of the 20 states with the highest rates for on the job fatalities were right-to-work. It is not clear whether these are a consequence of lack of unionization or whether both follow from a poor overall bargaining position for workers in these states or the low standard of living in many of these states compared to other states. The most dangerous jobs are primarily relatively low skill and low wage, and many businesses with such jobs have relocated to these states, seeking the availability of cheaper non-union labor.
The states which have right-to-work laws tout them to businesses, seeking to attract jobs; since these states have historically been poorer, it is difficult to separate correlation from causation. Indeed, some supporters of right-to-work laws admit that the laws are essentially anti-union, but argue that by decreasing union rules and union power, the laws create jobs and prevent low skill workers from being unemployable. In this, the arguments are similar to those about the minimum wage.
US States with Right-to-Work laws
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
The territory of Guam also has right-to-work laws.
Quotations concerning the right-to-work laws
"You will find some people saying that they are for the so-called 'right-to-work' law, but they also believe in unions. This is absurd. It's like saying you are for motherhood but against children" – Harry Truman
"In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, as 'right-to-work.' It provides no 'rights' and no 'works.' Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining… We must demand that this fraud be stopped." – Martin Luther King Jr.
For "Right-To-Work" Laws
Against "Right-To-Work" Laws
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