Legislative Update

State Battle Spotlight: Right to Work Laws = Right to Work for Less

Journal: Issue 1 - 2011

“You will find some people saying they are for 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, 1947

So-called “right to work” (RTW) laws – intentionally misnamed by a network of anti-union business and political interests that have championed their passage for years – are currently in effect in 22 states. In practice, these measures – more accurately termed “right to work for less” – actually lower wages, reduce benefits and weaken jobsite safety. They also fail to guarantee any “rights” for workers that they aren’t already entitled to under federal law. 

It’s clear the real goal of these laws isn’t securing workers’ rights, but destroying the union contract.  In RTW  states, all employees working under a union’s collective bargaining agreement are entitled to all the union’s protections and benefits – wage increases, pension and health benefits, safer working conditions, and representation on the job – whether they choose to pay dues or not. Because unions must represent all employees, dues or no dues, they are forced to use their time and members’ dues money to provide union benefits to free riders who won’t pay their fair share. Union organizing is hindered, and free riders consistently drag down the standards that dues-paying members work hard to institute.

Of the 22 RTW states, 20 enacted the legislation before 1965. Even so, corporate interest in spreading RTW has never flagged. Oklahoma, the newest RTW state, is an especially telling example. The measure passed there in 2001, but the phenomenal job growth that had been promised by RTW supporters “never materialized,” says Local 5 Oklahoma/ Arkansas/Texas President Ed Navarro, also noting that “the same was true for attracting legitimate out-of-state businesses – they haven’t shown up yet!”


With anti-union fervor reaching fever pitch in states with corporate-fueled conservative majorities like Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan more than a dozen states now face pending or expected RTW initiatives [see map above].

In Indiana, following the vigorous pushback by union activists – in which  Local 4 Indiana/Kentucky’s members and President Ted Champ took a lead role – Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) finally agreed to pull that state’s RTW legislation for the rest of the year.  In Michigan, one of 37 anti-worker bills on state lawmakers’ dockets would create right to work zones throughout the state. An RTW bill sailed through the New Hampshire House in March, and after clearing a Senate committee, now awaits consideration by the full Senate. The Missouri House debated, but has not yet voted on an RTW bill.

“It’s union busting, plain and simple, and BAC will fight any and all attempts to enact right to work for less laws wherever they are proposed,” said IU President James Boland.

To learn more about RTW and get updates on state campaigns, check out BAC’s State Battles coverage at www.bacweb.org in the“Legislative and Political” section and by signing up to receive email alerts.

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