By Michael Reed
Michigan’s decision is the latest chapter in a history of right-to-work laws which spans several decades. By the end of 1947, 12 states had enacted right-to-work statutes, and by 2001, 22 states had enacted right-to-work laws. In February 2012, Indiana became the 23rd state to pass right-to-work legislation in more than a decade. In the 2012 state legislative sessions, 21 states considered right-to-work and other union membership legislation. For more information on these and other state legislative labor and collective bargaining bills, visit the NCSL Collective Bargaining Legislation Database.
NCSL state labor policy expert Jeanne Mejeur has commented that opponents and proponents disagree almost entirely on the impact of right-to-work laws on jobs, wages and the economy. “About the only area of agreement is that right-to-work states tend to have much lower rates of union membership,” wrote Mejeur in a May 2012 report on state right-to-work laws. “The 17 states with the lowest levels of union membership are all right-to-work states.”
Union security agreements are collective bargaining provisions that require employees to either join a union or contribute dues to the union to cover the union’s collective bargaining activities. Under the federal National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), employers and unions are permitted to include union security dues in collective bargaining agreements. However, in 1947, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, which amended NLRA to grant states the authority to supersede federal statutes with their own laws on union security agreements, paving the way for state-based right to work laws.
While the framework for labor law has been established by the federal government, states do maintain great authority over the laws that regulate collective bargaining within their own borders. However, federal lawmakers have made several attempts to limit state authority over labor matters such as right-to-work. For example, in the current 112th Congress several provisions have been introduced to abolish union security agreements nationally, such as the National Right to Work Act (S.2173/H.R. 2040) or to remove the language in the Taft-Hartley Act that permits states to implement their own right-to-work statutes (H.R. 2775).
Although it is unlikely that any of these bills will see significant action before the end of the year, it is likely that there will be increased congressional attention to right-to-work and or union security agreement legislation in the 113th Congress, particularly as state legislatures continue to consider such issues in their own bodies.