Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about large corporations opting to move their headquarters to a “right to work” state in order to reduce payroll and benefit expenses. Certainly, it’s understandable that any time you are seeking a reason for changes in corporate activities, follow the money.

What it Means

“Right to Work” is actually a misnomer, since it has nothing to do with an individual’s right to seek and accept employment. Rather, the Right to Work (RTW) laws prevents a labor union and the employer from negotiating union security clauses. These security clauses are contract provisions that regulate the collection of dues to the union. In Michigan, for example, a non-RTW state, the labor unions, and employers are free to negotiate a range of union security options. The unions typically prefer the term “union shop” that require every person benefiting from the union representation to pay union dues. In the RTW states, the union and the employer are not allowed to negotiate union security clauses which result in an “Open Shop” where the payment of dues to the union is optional.

Those Against

Typically, all labor unions are against an RTW state. They believe that every worker who benefits directly from union representation should pay their share of the cost of that representation. They believe at the very least, a worker should be required to pay their share to cover the expenses of negotiating and administering the labor agreement. Union representatives believe this is just since the law requires them to represent all workers within a bargaining unit.

Those Who Support

The supporters of RTW statutes base their arguments on two very specific reasons:

  1. The Right to Work laws make a state more attractive to investment that results in job growth. Their argument is that large companies who are looking to cut costs will consider RTW states where there is a significant reduction in payroll and benefits.
  2. The second argument supporting the RTW state is actually rooted in libertarian ideology. These supporters maintain that workers should not be required to support any collective (in this case unions) against their will. This position focuses on the coercive practice of requiring a sacrifice from all persons who benefit from a collective endeavor.

This is considered coercion when a worker objects to some practices of the union but is unable to withhold support. A newly hired worker at a company that is already unionized simply has no choice to participate in the union or forgo their representation.

Unions are a result of unfair working environments provided by employers and in many states, especially those who have a large amount of manufacturing employers, unions have been and probably will always be the best means of representation between the worker and the employer. In states with more technology than manufacturing, the workers are typically college educated and professional enough to represent themselves. Unions are certainly not flawless. They are organizations that breathe a measure of democratic life in an otherwise autocratic corporate culture. But unions are from the past and continue to live in the past by continually believing that the American workers cannot take care of themselves in a large corporate workplace.