LaborTalk for February 7, 2012

How 'Right-to-Work' Laws in 23 States Block
Unions from Conducting Membership Drives

By Harry Kelber

There are now 23 states that have "right-to-work" (RTW) laws, and whenever the AFL-CIO or Change-to-Win leaders speak of them, they add the words "or less." That is a superficial answer and does not explain why these laws have been used to prevent union organizing for more than 50 years.

Let's be clear: a "right-to-work" law is a statute that prohibits unions from requiring its members to pay dues money or fees, even though they receive any increase in wages and benefits..

Under RTW, contracts between labor unions and employers are now forbidden to contain provisions that make payment of union dues or fees as a condition of employment, either before or after hiring. Right-to-work laws exist in 23 states (the latest passed in Indiana this year).

Section 14(b) of the Act, which outlawed the closed shop and secondary picketing, also gave states the authority to permit an employee the right to any wage increases or benefits, without paying a cent in dues money or even belonging to a union.

With new recruits encouraged to be "freeloaders," unions were discouraged from organizing, since they could not be assured that they could recover the expense of conducting or maintaining an organizing campaign. It was virtually impossible to establish a stable local union in a workplace, where workers could avoid paying union dues, yet share in the benefits that are won through negotiations.

Here is a list of the 23 states that have "right-to-work" laws: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

Most of the RTW laws were enacted between the late 1940s and 1950s. It is no mere coincidence that unions in most of these states have the inclusion of Indiana as an RTW state this year is a warning that the National Right to Work Committee aims to create an RTW law in the other 27 states of the U.S.

Unions Must Fight 'Right-to-Work' Laws in order to Grow

AFL-CIO leaders and spokespersons, who constantly refer to RTW laws as "right to work for less," are seriously understating the impact of those anti-labor attacks.

It is a fact that in the past several decades, unions have given up the fight to repeal or amend the Taft-Hartley Act and have not protested the RTW laws in 22 mainly western and southern states.

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It is unfortunate that the 22 states that are saddled with RTW laws have rarely fought to repeal or amend them. Instead, they have accepted the limitations of these laws that prevent them from organizing workers who are committed to paying dues.

Unions must find ways to challenge the provisions of RTW laws if thy expect to grow in numbers and economic power.

LaborTalk will be posted here on February 10, 2012 and on our two web sites and on

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