On February 1, 2017, a national right-to-work bill was introduced in the House of Representatives. The bill, called the National Right-to-Work Act, would amend the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) to remove language allowing requirements that workers pay dues as a condition of employment, known as union security clauses. The NLRA was amended by the Taft-Hartly Act in 1947 to allow states to pass laws barring mandatory union dues. Under these laws, unions are required to bargain on behalf of an entire bargaining unit; however members do not have to pay dues.
Currently 28 states, including North Carolina and Georgia, have passed right-to-work laws. Traditionally, states enacting right-to-work laws were in the south where union support is perceived to be lower. Unions fear that a national right-to-work law would be a crushing blow to union coffers. Past attempts at a national right-to-work law have failed to make it through both houses of Congress, however, support for such laws is expanding, with traditionally “pro-union” states passing their own right-to-work laws in the past several years.
Supporters of right-to-work laws state that it gives workers the right to opt out of paying for union memberships they do not want. Opponents state that the laws allow workers to enjoy benefits collectively bargained for by a union without paying to be represented. Right-to-work laws typically benefit companies as weaker unions are seen as easier to work with. However, labor attorney and former union organizer Larry Cary believes a national right-to-work might not cause a gradual erosion of union power but rather motivate unions to assert itself to survive. “Faced with that reality, the union has to more effectively represent people than they might have otherwise represented in order to win them over, to get them to pay dues, which means the shop floor becomes a battleground.”