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What is a Right to Work State?

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on June 01, 2011 6:47 AM

Upset that the National Labor Relations Board is intervening in a labor dispute between Boeing and unionized workers over the relocation of a manufacturing plant, Senate Republicans have introduced the Right to Work Protection Act.

Related laws are currently being considered in Maine and New Hampshire, and are expected to see consideration elsewhere.

Though federal law undoubtedly protects workers' right to form and participate in a union, it has left it up to states to decide whether union membership can be made mandatory if a union already exists.

So, what exactly is a right to work state and why should you care about it?

In the 22 states that have enacted right to work laws, unions and employers are prohibited from denying employment to a person who does not wish to become a union member.

This also means that a person who works in a right to work state cannot be fired for choosing not to join the union, or for leaving the union. They also cannot be forced to pay any fees or dues.

Opinions differ as to whether right to work laws are beneficial or harmful for workers.

The AFL-CIO believes that mandatory union membership leads to higher wages, shared costs and higher standards, while groups that support right to work legislation believe in freedom of choice.

The truth is probably somewhere in-between.

If you live in a right to work state, it's important to keep in mind that this explanation is merely a generalization of right to work laws across the country. If you find yourself in need of state-specific information, contact a labor attorney for help.

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