Understanding Right to Work Laws
Texas is what is called a “Right-to-Work State.” This means that Texas is one of 22 states, mostly southern and western states, in which it is illegal for trade unions to sign agreements with employers requiring employees to be members of that union in order to work for that employer.
When unions have agreements with employers like this, the employer’s workplace is colloquially called a Union Shop. While you don’t need to be a member of the union to be hired, you do need to join the union after a certain time period elapses. This means that everyone working there is a member of the same union. Let’s say that you live Michigan and are seeking employment working on an automobile assembly line. To get the job, you would have to become a due-paying member of the autoworkers’ union at the plant.
The 22 states in which this is illegal believe that it is wrong for workers to be forced to pay dues like this. They believe that workers have a right to work, hence the name of the law.
The Right-to-Work Laws were first created by the Taft-Hartley Act, which was signed into law by President Truman in 1947. It illegalized the “closed shop” employment policy, in which an employee had to be a member in good standing of a particular union in order to be employed at a certain place of work to begin with. To reuse our automobile plant example from earlier, in a “closed shop,” you would have to already be a member of the autoworker’s union in order to be hired in the first place.
The law sought to reduce the potentially criminal aspects of requiring union due-paying as a requirement for employment, and to support a worker’s right to seek employment wherever he or she wanted.
Advantages of Right-to-Work Laws
One of the obvious advantages to living in a Right-to-Work state is that you aren’t forced to pay dues just to work for an employer. Some consider this as close to robbery, or being forced to pay protection money. In addition, right-to-work states often see greater economic expansion because employers have a wider and less expensive work force. Because of this, many companies are moving factories to right-to-work states.
Disadvantages of Right-to-Work Laws
There are also downsides to the policy. By taking away the benefits of unionizing, labor organizations experience what is called the free-rider problem, in which employees can benefit from unions without being due-paying members. This makes it hard to convince people to pay the dues a union requires to keep running, since the employee benefits whether he pays money or not. This reduces the effectiveness of collective bargaining, the process by which unions seek more favorable work conditions. Without collective bargaining, a union is virtually powerless.
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