LEGAL: Majority of states now right-to-work

Jeff Jones
Jeff Jones.

On July 1, West Virginia will become the 26th right-to-work state. Right-to-work laws prohibit unions and employers from requiring workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

While Democratic state legislators argue that right-to-work laws hurt unions and working families, others say that right-to-work laws promote economic development and economic freedom. West Virginia is the fourth state in four years to enact a right-to-work law; others include Indiana (2012), Michigan (2013) and Wisconsin (2015).

Two other developments concerning right-to-work laws are of note. On March 29, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 4-4 deadlocked ruling let stand a lower court ruling allowing unions to collect mandatory dues from government employees they represent, a practice allowed in more than 20 states. The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers’ Association, was brought by a religious group and a teachers’ group who contended that permitting the mandatory payment for functions such as collective bargaining violated teachers’ constitutional rights. The theory was that collective bargaining is a form of political speech that the teachers should not have to support.

Prior to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, it was widely predicted that the then five-justice conservative majority would reduce the power of public employee unions to require employees to pay union dues or “fair share fees.” The deadlock among the justices effectively let the lower court ruling stand, leaving the “fair share fees” practice intact. That outcome demonstrates how much one justice can affect the outcome of a case at the Supreme Court level.

In the other development, reportedly some counties or municipalities in Illinois, along with Kentucky, have passed local right-to-work legislation. Section 14(b) the National Labor Relations Act allows states to pass such legislation. The question of whether this right extends to subdivisions of the states such as counties is currently being litigated.