Right To Work

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Right-to-work laws are statutes that protect workers freedom by not forcing them to pay dues to a union before becoming employed and/or throughout employment. Nearly any citizen in a right-to-work state is protected by that state's right-to-work law, with a few exceptions. For example, employees of airlines and railroads are not covered by right-to-work laws; neither are federal enclaves.

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History of the right-to-work law in the United States

In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) was passed by Congress; it permitted the expulsion of workers who refused to join a union. Such provisions create a "closed shop" [1] where only union workers are employed. Many businesses during World War Two found themselves increasingly pressured by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration to become unionized [2] in this way. Before the passage of the Taft-Hartley act in 1947, employees who refused to agree to a closed shop could be penalized or fired. Although the Taft-Hartley act outlawed the closed shop, it still allowed for a "union shop" where all new employees were required to join the union within a certain period of time after being hired. The union shop also permitted employers to fire those employees who avoided paying union membership fees. One of the more controversial aspects of the Taft-Hartley act was that it allowed states to outlaw the union shop or other union security agreements which would normally be legal under federal law. Soon enough, right-to-work laws primarily aimed against forced unionization began popping up in several states. Right-to-work laws were also a result of the lingering nineteenth century individualist concept that the individual worker should be free of contract or free to support or join a union. [3]


Supporters of the right-to-work law believe that workers should be free to choose whether or not they want to join a union.[4] They believe it is unconstitutional for employers to create contracts where one must join a union or promise to pay union fees within a certain time in order to have or keep their job. Right-to-work law supporters believe that states with right-to-work laws grow quicker economically. They also cite that unemployment rates in these states are lower because of the right-to-work statutes in place. Right-to-work states have a trend of being located in the south and southwestern US. Here is one argument from a pro right-to-work organization: "It is no coincidence that the healthy automakers in the South happen to be located in Right-to-Work states. In these states, unions have to serve the true interests of their workers or suffer membership losses. The policy of compulsory unionism has allowed the UAW to hold its workers hostage and ruin these great American companies." [5]


Opponents of right-to-work laws believe that lower wages are a result of right-to-work laws. They also say that because of right-to-work laws, the safety of workers is lessened and their health is endangered. Because right-to-work laws prevent contracts between business owners and unions, unions are less likely to be organized and if they are, they are less likely to survive. Right-to-work laws also cause a free rider problem where employees who do not join the union will still reap the benefits of those who worked to make it so.Opponents of the right-to-work laws also say that unions are weakened because of this free rider problem because less people are likely to participate in a union. Here are arguments from those who oppose right-to-work laws: "At one time, factories and jobs flowed from the north to the south because of comparative wage advantages. Even today, union membership is far lower in right-to-work states than elsewhere. So are wages and benefits for the average worker." [6]

Status In Kentucky

In January 2005, Rep. Joseph M. Fischer (R) introduced House Bill 82. [7] The bill's purpose was to give Kentuckians the choice of whether or not to join a union. The bill also revised the definition of "labor organization" to include unions. Violating this law would be equal to a class A misdemeanor. Senate Bill 205, introduced on Feb. 14, 2005 by Sen. Richard L. Roeding (R) was almost exactly the same bill. [8] On Jan. 3, 2006 Rep. Stan Lee (R) introduced House Bill 38 which would once again outlaw mandatory membership of a union for employment and revise the definition of "labor organization" to include unions. One difference was that the violation of this bill (if it were to become law) would result in a low level class D felony. This bill was referred to the House Labor and Industry Committee. Republican governor Ernie Fletcher argued that Kentucky would attract more industries with a right-to-work law; Fletcher pushed the "right-to-work" bill as far as he could along with the hopes of repealing Kentucky's prevailing wage law. But the governor was met with opposition from organized labor, [9] who mockingly called the right-to-work bill "the right to work for less." Even before the vote (11-3 against right to work) took place, Fletcher's right-to-work bill seemed doomed. "If either of those bills get to the floor, I know of at least 15 Republicans who will vote against it," said Greenville Rep. Brent Yonts (D). [10] The bill was defeated on March 7, 2006, [11] the same day thousands of Kentuckians organized labor activists protested the bill in front of the Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky. They held banners with slogans like "Stand up and Fight Back." [12] All in all, organized labor had risen to the challenge of defeating what they feared would destroy unions. [13] But right-to-work laws remained an issue even into the 2007 Gubernatorial election. Republican representative Jim DeCesare [14] introduced House Bill 328 on Feb. 7, 2007, which basically reintroduced the issue even though it had been defeated nearly a year earlier. [15] Debate insued. Fletcher said right-to-work legislation shouldn’t affect firefighters or police officers and could increase union membership in the long term. He also once again cited that businesses often do not come to Kentucky because of the lack of a right-to-work law. Democrat Steve Beshear, who defeated the incumbent to become governor in 2008, said that making the bluegrass state a right-to-work state would "would obviously obliterate any union contracts to start with." Beshear simply laid out his belief in nine words: “Kentucky should not be a right-to-work state.”[16]


States with right-to-work laws

Arizona, Arkansas, Florida and Oklahoma [17] are right-to-work states by their constitutions. The remaining right-to-work states are so by statute. Usmapright2work.png

Twenty-two of the fifty US states currently have a functioning right-to-work law:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Wyoming.

Guam also has a right-to-work law.[18] Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee averaged about 287,000 new jobs between 1996 and 2004. States without right to work laws such as Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, West Virginia and Missouri averaged just more than 63,000 new jobs during the same time frame. [19] Tennessee lands companies that Kentucky cannot, such as Nissan North America. The company admitted that one reason they decided to move its headquarters from California to Tennessee and not Kentucky was because of the lower business costs. [20] Interestingly enough, the average Kentuckian has to work 13 months to make what an average Tennesseean can in one year. [21]

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Right to Work Scorecard for Kentucky

You can find the scorecard by clicking here.

Right to Work for Kentucky Counties

Kentucky counties have also started to adopt Right-to-Work ordinances on their own.

External Links


  1. Closed Shop definition
  2. History of the Right to Work: A Winning Issue
  3. Answers.com Right-to-work Laws
  4. Right-to-work without a fee
  5. Auto workers should have the right to work
  6. Right-to-work laws are Bad for Indiana
  7. House Bill 82
  8. Kentucky Right-to-work act
  9. Governor met with opposition
  10. Rep. Brent Yonts
  11. Organized Labor Bashes Fletcher's Wage Proposals: Unions Plan March 7 Rally at State Capital
  12. Union Political Clout Defeats Kentucky Right-To-Work Law
  13. The Paducah Sun-Opponents for 6th House seat exchange barbs
  14. DeCesare
  15. DeCesare's Right-to-work bill
  16. Fletcher and Beshear differ on issue
  17. Oklahoma's Right-to-Work Amendment
  18. Idaho E-Library: What are right-to-work laws?
  19. Right to work affords protection for workers, prosperity for states
  20. Tennessee beats Kentucky again
  21. Rich States, Poor States