Right-to-Work Efforts Gain Momentum

Missouri and New Hampshire are the latest states to push for a ban on mandatory union fees

Right-to-Work Efforts Gain Momentum

Republican-controlled state legislatures have prioritized right-to-work laws in recent years, and that focus has continued in 2017.

Kentucky became the 27th right-to-work state when Gov. Matt Bevin signed legislation during a special session on Jan. 7.

Missouri and New Hampshire might be next. Both states have legislation in the works that would ban employers and unions from agreeing to make union dues or fee payments a condition of employment.

[Update: On Feb. 6, Missouri became the 28th state to approve right-to-work legislation when Gov. Eric Greitens signed S.B. 19. The law will take effect on Aug. 28.]

Federal labor laws allow collective bargaining agreements to include a requirement that employees either join the union or pay dues within a certain time after starting a job.

No one can be compelled to join the union, but collective bargaining agreements can require nonmembers to pay dues or a reduced agency fee to cover certain activities, explained Tim Kamin, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Milwaukee. If an employee fails to do one of those things, he or she can be fired.

However, states are allowed to establish right-to-work laws that make this practice illegal, Kamin added.

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What was the purpose of the Labor Management Relations Act?]

HR professionals should recognize that union organizing is likely to be less robust after right-to-work laws pass because some workers won't pay dues anymore and the union will have fewer resources, said Bradley Kafka, an attorney with Polsinelli in St. Louis.

Contentious Issue

Supporters of right-to-work laws say that unions should have to show the benefits of membership and that employees should have the freedom to decide whether it makes sense for them personally to join.

Opponents of right-to-work laws argue that they encourage "free-riding" because the union is required to represent the entire bargaining unit—even nonmembers—so some employees would receive the benefits of membership without chipping in for the cost.

Unions are less likely to try and organize in places with right-to-work laws because they're no longer fertile ground for growing memberships, Kafka said.


Missouri's right-to-work bill passed the state Senate by a 21-12 vote and is being considered by the House of Representatives. The House also passed a similar measure.

Republican Gov. Eric Greitens is expected to sign the legislation. He said on his website that he supports right to work.

"I support it because it would stop companies and union bosses from taking a cut of your paycheck to support their political organization," he said. "That money is your money—and you should decide how you want to spend it."

New Hampshire

New Hampshire's bill passed the state Senate in a narrow vote of 12-11 and has yet to pass the House of Representatives, Kamin explained. It's not clear that it will pass, he added.

The issue has come up repeatedly over the past few years and hasn't passed one chamber or the other.

The House will likely have a robust debate on the issue, Kamin said. If the legislation is successful, New Hampshire would be the first right-to work-state in New England, he added.


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