Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What are right-to-work laws, and should you care?

Michigan is poised to become the 24th state to enact a right-to-work law. These laws prohibit agreements between labor unions and employers that require employees to pay union dues as a condition of their employment, whether or not the employees are members of the union.

These laws are a creature of 1947’s Taft-Hartley Act. Before 1947, it was legal for unions and employers to agree, via their collective bargaining agreement, to maintain what is known as a “closed shop.” In a closed shop, unions and employers could require that employees join the union as a condition of employment. The Taft–Hartley Act outlawed closed shops, making it illegal for any employer to force an employee to join a union.

The Taft-Hartley Act, however, did not outlaw “agency shops,” in which employees do not have to join the union, but can be required to pay the union their share of union dues. Right-to-work laws were born out of an exception in the Taft-Hartley Act, under which individual states can pass laws outlawing agency shops.

Ohio is not a right-to-work state. Yet, this map (courtesy of National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation), illustrates why every employer in every state should care about the right-to-work movement:

The map of right-to-work states bears a striking resemblance to the electoral maps in recent presidential elections. In other words, regardless of whether your state is, or is not, a right-to-work state, the state of these laws around the country says a lot about our current polarized (and polarizing) political system.

Moreover, with Republicans controlling Ohio’s governor’s office and both houses of Ohio’s legislature, do not be surprised when a strong push is made for this legislation in our own state. If so, it will make for a fierce battle between business interests—who argue these laws are necessary to attract companies—and unions—who argue that these laws are nothing more than a move to curb the power of labor and reduce its influence.