What is the “Right to Work?”

When people talk about labor law and unionization, one of the arguments that often comes up is about the so-called “right to work.” It’s often brought up as one of the reasons not to unionize, and “right to work” legislation has been passed in many states throughout the country. But what, exactly, is the “right to work,” and why do union organizers hate it so much?

To understand the right to work, you need to understand how collective bargaining works. Essentially, unions have bargaining power because their members act in solidarity with one another, meaning that a workplace cannot function if they all decide to protest or stop working at once (i.e. if they decide to go on strike). While much of that solidarity comes from joining together in collective action, it also comes in the much more basic form of union dues.

Union dues are paid by every employee represented by the union, and they are essential to the function of any union, because those dues are what are used to cover people’s cost of living while they’re on strike. They’re also used to hire negotiators and lawyers, fund pensions, and do anything else the union is meant to do. Be default, union dues (or an equivalent charitable donation) must be paid by any employee covered by the union contract, even if they personally object to the union and its activities.

“Right to work” laws change the equation, by making it so union dues are optional, rather than mandatory. While this might not seem like a big deal at first, it significantly undermines much of a union’s power by allowing employees to gain the benefits of a union without needing to pay union dues. This is known as the “free rider” problem, and it undercuts a union’s ability to collectively bargain by depriving them of the resources they need to function. Currently, twenty-six states have “right to work” laws, although New York is not yet one of them.

If you are looking into unionizing, or you already have a union and are in a dispute with your employer, give the Law Offices of Steve Sack a call. Steven Mitchell Sack, the Employee’s Lawyer, is a New York employment lawyer who has considerable experience in handling the many aspects of labor and employment law. To schedule a consultation with New York City employment lawyer Steve Mitchell Sack, call (917) 371-8000.

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