A Right to Work Law Primer
Opinions differ on whether these union-fighting rules are good or bad for employees.
The term "Right to Work" sounds nonsensical on the surface. In free-market America, shouldn't anyone be allowed to work wherever they choose? They certainly are; the distinction is that states that have enacted Right to Work legislation to free potential workers from essentially being forced to join a union if they want a particular job.
In order to be effective, unions aim to cover as much of the workforce as possible. Ideally, this would mean that everyone at a unionized company were to become union members immediately upon hiring. Strictly speaking this is illegal, but unions can skirt this by signing "security clauses" (agreements) with companies that mandate that the firm be a "union" or an "agency shop". These basically mean that a new worker can be required to effectively become part of the union covering the company, albeit with certain restrictions, chiefly that the fresh employee has a certain period of time (usually 30 days) before he or she must either join or (in the case of agency shops) if not, pay a significant portion of union dues. The latter clause has been effected to prevent "free riding", or the acquiring of union benefits (such as those won in collective bargaining) for non-members.
In contrast, in Right to Work states no union can automatically draft a new worker even as a dues-paying non-member. This means that the incoming employee always has a free choice as to whether he wants to join or associate with the union. Right to Work laws generally encompass nearly all private employers (save for a few exceptions in companies that operate on selected federal properties), however they don't cover certain segments of the transportation sector (i.e. railway and airline) employees.
At the moment, nearly half of America's states (specifically 22) are Right to Work. These are generally concentrated in the Southeast, where every state either has such legislation on the books or has gone even further by enshrining Right to Work in its state constitution. The Midwest is also heavily R.T.W. while the Northeast is the opposite, with no states legislating the provisions. The same goes for the Pacific Coast enclaves of California , Washington and Oregon.
Proponents of Right to Work argue that it provides employees a democratic option whether or not to receive the benefits of union membership. Not surprisingly, many of R.T.W.'s staunchest supporters tend to be business organizations or corporate entities. These supporters also contend that such employee freedom of choice opens more job opportunities, particularly for skilled labor, and reduces unemployment. Opponents such as the massive AFL-CIO union federation maintain that allowing workers to opt out of union participation weakens the power of labor organizations, as they depend heavily on numbers for their strength and effectiveness. Those opposed also claim that since R.T.W. restricts the ability of unions to fight for wage increases, it keeps worker salaries down.
The debate is contentious and, like many facets of American labor law, will never be settled. Anyone choosing to accept a job in a unionized company operating in a Right to Work state has an often difficult choice to make. For those workers, those for and against arguments should be carefully weighted before a decision to accept the work is taken.