I just held a class on Labor Law and one of the concepts we discussed was “right –to-work”. Many people confuse “right-to-work” with “employment-at-will.” Simply put, EAW is a common law concept that says that employers and employees both have a right to terminate their working relationship at any time for any reason, as long as that does not violate some enacted law. “Right-to-work” on the other hand is enacted legislation that was passed as part of the 1947 Labor-Management Relations Act (also known as Taft-Hartley) and it defines whether an employee has to belong to a union or not in order to have their job.
“Right-to-work” is actually controlled by each individual state. The LMRA gave states the right to decide how they wanted to react and as you might guess most northern, already heavily unionized, states decided to reject ‘right-to-work” while most Southern states adopted it. Also, as you might suspect, unions hate the idea.
More states are accepting
Initially 22 states adopted “right-to-work” legislation. More recently two “rust-belt” states have changed their tune. Both Indiana and Michigan (yes, you read that right, home of the UAW) adopted “right-to-work” legislation in 2012. I wrote about this in the post called New “Right-to-Work” Law- A Test for Union Clout?
In Indiana the union power structure sued and got one court to declare it unconstitutional under the constitution of Indiana. However, the Indiana Supreme Court overturned that decision in a 5-0 vote and said it was not. James Sweeney, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150, has vowed to review and to potentially appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Why Unions don’t like “right-to-work”
The concept of “right-to-work” is that you cannot force an employee to have to belong to a union and pay union dues in order to keep his/her job. In a non-RtW state, after a probationary period, an employee must become a union member in order to stay employed. Their personal desires and wants and interests about the union are ignored in favor of the union being paid dues by one more person. RTW states allow employees to make that decision and some do and some don’t. But it certainly eats into the financial support for the union. Thus, they fight this legislation tooth and nail.
According to the Attorney General of Indiana, Greg Zoller, “The ruling by our Supreme Court confirmed that the people’s elected representatives in the Legislature were within their legal authority to craft an economic policy prohibiting involuntary union dues, and this policy does not violate the Indiana Constitution…” Back when the legislation was originally passed the unions vowed to seek revenge at the ballot box. It appears they fell short in that effort as well.
It is unlikely that they will have success getting this case heard by the Supreme Court of the United States and thus the Indiana law may be seen as a go-ahead signal for other state legislatures. Michigan has already followed Indiana’s lead and the proponents may feel confident that they will survive any attempt against the legislation as well.