In July 2016, West Virginia enacted its Right-to-Work laws which officially meant that more than half the country backs the idea of a Right-to-Work state. In the late 1940s and on through the 1970s, it would have been unheard of in the United States for more than half to states to support Right-to-Work laws, and that is because these types of laws make it illegal to force workers to join a union.
The basic goal of Right-to-Work laws is to give workers the choice between whether or not they want to join and support the union that represents the workers in the shop. Workers often choose to not join a union because they don’t agree with the union’s politics, or they just don’t want to pay the union dues each month.
Throughout the history of the United States, it has never been mandatory for workers to join the union when they started work for a company. The thing that was mandatory was that all workers had to pay what were called agency fees to cover the costs of negotiating contracts and handling other administrative tasks. The Right-to-Work laws make it illegal to force workers to pay any kind of union dues, including agency fees.
Pros And Cons Of Right-To-Work Laws
The pros and cons of Right-to-Work laws can be interesting to study, especially side-by-side. For example, once you understand these laws it can be easy to see why unions are not big fans of this legislation. But some construction companies feel that Right-to-Work laws give workers a choice and that forces unions to be more productive and more accountable to its membership.
The primary pro for Right-to-Work laws is that it gives workers the option to choose between whether or not they want to join the union. Some people simply do not like the idea of being part of a union, while others would rather keep the monthly union dues for themselves. Our society has almost become desensitized to the idea that jobs are disposable, and that does not help unions when now over half the country can opt-out of union membership.
Unions argue that Right-to-Work laws lower wages, make workplaces unsafe, and degrade the safety standards companies are supposed to adhere to. In a Right-to-Work state, unions are supposed to represent member and non-member employees, but it is hard for unions to have any leverage when they don’t have the membership numbers they need. Unions point to a weakening of their overall position as a significant con of the Right-to-Work laws.
Collective bargaining agreements in states that have Right-to-Work laws tend to offer lower wages than states that have strong unions. For the workers who are working a prevailing wage job in a Right-to-Work state, this can be very bad news.
The Changes To Right-To-Work Laws From State To State
The Right-to-Work laws in each state tend to change from time to time, but the bulk of the wording is the same in most of them. Some states mention specific practices that other states avoid. For example, Nevada’s Right-to-Work laws say specifically that any strikes or demonstrations by employees that are an attempt to force an employer to sign with a union are illegal. While the Right-to-Work laws are designed to be more about the power of choice than anti-union, this is an unusually strong anti-union statement.
At the same time, states such as Texas say specifically that workers can gather together in a group for the express purpose of negotiating issues with an employer. This part of the Texas law also does hint at the idea that a labor union cannot come into a situation uninvited to start negotiating on behalf of employees, but it definitely leaves the door open for employees to start a union of their own, and the employer could not legally stop it.
Then there are those times when a state writes a Right-to-Work law that is meant to directly thumb its nose at labor unions. Florida’s Right-to-Work law states:
Because of the activities of labor unions affecting the economic conditions of the country and the state, entering as they do into practically every business and industrial enterprise, it is the sense of the Legislature that such organizations affect the public interest and are charged with a public use. The working person, unionist or nonunionist, must be protected.
Once again, these Right-to-Work laws are intended to be about the freedom of choice. But if you read them, you will find several states taking direct shots at labor unions.
How Right-To-Work Laws Affect Construction Contractors
In Right-to-Work states, unions can still negotiate with contractors, but those unions negotiate on behalf of members and non-members. This means that the members have to pay increasingly higher dues just to keep the unions going, and that is weakening the status of unions in the construction industries of many states.
For construction companies, Right-to-Work laws mean the ability to choose less expensive non-union labor without the pressure that used to come from unions. Many construction companies insist that being able to hire workers who are not affiliated with unions keeps costs down. This may be true, but it can also be said that safety is suffering.
In 2015, 15 out of the 16 fatal construction accidents on New York City construction sites were committed by non-union shops. Unions fear that without the kind of safety training and safety monitoring unions offer, the idea of Right-to-Work laws could mean that more people are going to get hurt.
Right now, New York City is not in a Right-to-Work state. But even without having laws working against them, the labor unions are still losing ground in the Big Apple. Companies and contractors are opting for the less expensive non-union option, and Right-to-Work laws in 26 states make it easy to find a non-union contractor to use.
As for the other areas where unions used to rule with an iron fist, the Right-to-Work laws have made sure that those days are fading away. The factions trying to wipe out the unions have more than half of the states on their side now, and it does not look like that momentum is going to stop anytime soon.
If you want to learn about how these laws and union rules affect your business, then start a course with PDH Contractors. You will find all of the informational resources you need to run your contracting business in one convenient place when you join PDH Contractors.