Right-to-work states

Date posted: March 14, 2012

Indiana recently passed legislation to become the latest right-to-work state. N.C. State University economist Mike Walden explains what a right-to-work state is and why the concept is sometimes controversial.

“Specifically, in a right-to-work state, a labor union that has been established in an industry or a company cannot by law compel all workers in a company or in that industry to join the union as a condition for employment. So, let’s say that a labor union organizes and gets voted in for company ABC. What a right-to-work state legislation says is, Alright, that’s fine. People, workers who want to join the union can, but the union can’t force everyone to join in order to keep employed at company ABC.

“And as you might expect … in those states that are right-to-work states, unions are not quite as powerful, because that’s a big problem for them if they can’t force people to join, then a worker may say, ‘Well, yeah, we’re going to continue to work and perhaps continue to enjoy the benefits — the contract benefits — the union is able to get. But we’re not going to pay dues to the union.’ So, what you tend to find in right-to-work states is that unions are much less powerful.

“Now, the debate over whether it’s good to have a right-to-work state or not really comes down to a debate over what do unions do for workers. Are they good or bad?  And, of course, this has been a long-term debate. People who support unions say they result in better wages and better working conditions for their members. People who oppose unions say they result in higher labor costs and, therefore, in this very competitive world, deter jobs coming to those states.

“So this is an issue that, I think, has heated up a little bit by … Indiana voting to become a right-to-work state. So, I think it’s going to be issue that will be with us … for a while.”

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