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"Right to Work" Laws: Get The Facts

Jan 31, 2017
  • right to work fact sheet

What is a “right to work” law?

Despite its misleading name, this type of law does not guarantee anyone a job and it does not protect against unfair firing. 

By undermining unions, so-called “Right to Work” laws would weaken the best job security protections workers have - the union contract.

A “right to work” law is a state law that stops employers and employees from negotiating an agreement – also known as a union security clause – that requires all workers who receive the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement to pay their share of the costs of representing them.  Right to Work laws say that unions must represent every eligible employee, whether he or she pays dues or not.  In other words, “Right to Work” laws allow workers to pay nothing and still get all the benefits of union membership.

“Right to Work” laws aren’t fair to dues-paying members.  If a worker who is represented by a union and doesn’t pay dues is fired illegally, the union must use its time and money to defend him or her, even if that requires going through a costly, time-consuming legal process.  Since the union represents everyone, everyone benefits, so everyone should share in the costs of providing these services.  Amazingly, nonmembers who are represented by a union can even sue the union if they think it has not represented them well enough!

Working Families in States with “Right to Work” Laws Earn Lower Wages

  • On average, workers in states with “Right to Work” law earn $5,538 a year less than workers in states without these laws.   

“Right to Work” States Spend Less on Education

  • Right-to-Work states spend $2,671 less per pupil on elementary and secondary education than free-bargaining states. 

“Right to Work” States Have Higher Workplace Fatality Rates

  • According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of workplace deaths is 52.9% higher in states with Right-to-Work laws.

“Right to Work” Laws Don’t Improve Living Standards – Unions Improve Living Standards

  • Overall, union members earn 28 percent ($198) more per week than nonunion workers.  Hispanic union members earn 50 percent ($258) more each week than nonunion Hispanics and African Americans earn 29 percent ($168) more each week if they are union members.

  • 78 percent of private sector union workers have access to medical insurance through their jobs, compared with 51 percent of nonunion workers.  And 77 percent of private sector union workers have access to a guaranteed (defined benefit) retirement plan through their jobs, compared with just 20 percent of nonunion workers. 

  • Only 2.9 percent of union workers are uninsured, compared with 14.2 percent of nonunion workers.

Who benefits from “Right to Work” Laws?

No one.  Some low-wage employers might think that they would benefit from weak unions and low wages, but union members are also consumers.  “Right to work” laws undermine the purchasing power of unionized workers.  Employees covered by union contracts receive 28 percent more in wages and benefits than workers without unions.  For women workers, the union advantage is 34 percent. For African American workers, the union advantage is 29 percent.  And for Hispanic workers, the union advantage is a whopping 50 percent.  When “right to work” laws weaken unions and drive down wages and benefits, workers have less to spend and the entire economy – particularly small business--suffers.

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