West Virginia joins 25 other states that have adopted “right to work” laws that prohibit private employers from requiring workers to pay union dues, fees and assessments as a condition of employment. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D) initially vetoed the measure, but on February 12, 2016, the West Virginia legislature overrode the governor’s veto. The law, known as the Workplace Freedom Act, will take effect on July 1, 2016. Since 2012, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin have become right to work states, and with West Virginia’s adoption, a majority of states now have right to work laws on the books. We have followed this growing right to work trend over the years. See our previous articles:  Now There Are Twenty-Three (detailing Indiana’s adoption), Now There Are Twenty-Four (detailing Michigan’s adoption) and A National Turning Point: Wisconsin Becomes the Twenty-Fifth Right to Work State.

What Is Right to Work? 

Most private, non-governmental employers are covered by the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), sometimes referred to as the Taft-Hartley Act. Until 1947, the law allowed a union and an employer to agree that employees must join the union within 30 days or be fired. That law still allows a “union security clause” to be included in collective bargaining agreements, but in 1947, a provision, Section 14(b), was added to the law. It permits states to pass laws that prohibit agreements that would require union membership as an employment condition. Basically, a state could pass a law that gave employees the right to work without having to become a union member and paying dues. Since 1947, 26 states have passed right to work laws. Prior to the recent trend that began in 2012, Oklahoma was the last state to pass a right to work law in 2001.

The 26 states that have passed right to work laws are:

Click here to view table.

West Virginia’s Workplace Freedom Act

The West Virginia right to work law was passed as the Workplace Freedom Act and is a part of the broader Labor-Management Relations Act for the Private Sector. That law protects employee rights to form and join unions and to refrain from union activity and virtually copies the key provisions of the federal NLRA. In particular, West Virginia’s Workplace Freedom Act or right to work law provides:

  • 21-5G-2. Individual’s right to refrain from affiliating with a labor organization.

A person may not be required, as a condition or continuation of employment, to:

(1) Become or remain a member of a labor organization;

(2) Pay any dues, fees, assessments or other similar charges, however denominated, of

any kind or amount to any labor organization; or

(3) Pay any charity or third party, in lieu of those payments, any amount that is equivalent

to or a pro rata portion of dues, fees, assessments or other charges required of members of a labor organization. 

This provision applies to any written or oral contract or agreement entered into, modified, renewed or extended after July 1, 2016.  It does not apply to any written or oral agreement in effect on or before June 30, 2016.

Significance

With 26 states now having adopted right to work, the tipping point may have been reached. It is likely that there will be more states adopting right to work laws in the future.

Reference: Senate Bill 1, Labor –Management Relations Act for the Private Sector.