In a “right-to-work” state, private-sector employees have the option to choose whether or not they want to join a union. In other states, a person applying for a private-sector job where employees are unionized can be required to join the union as a requirement of being hired.

With regard to public-sector employees, a Supreme Court ruling in 2018 essentially made every state a right-to-work state for public sector unions.

Key Takeaways:

  • Understanding the definition of a right-to-work state
  • The right-to-work doctrine was originally established in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935
  • Maryland is not a right-to-work state
  • Virginia and North Carolina are right-to-work states
  • In its current version that passed the House in March 2021, the PRO Act would override and do away with state right-to-work laws

Defining a Right-to-Work State

A “right-to-work” state is one that has passed state legislation stipulating that no individual can be forced, as a condition of employment, to join or pay dues to a labor union.

In other states, a person applying for a job where the employees are unionized can be required to join the union as a requirement of being hired.

More than half of all states have right-to-work laws. Virginia and North Carolina are right-to-work states whereas Maryland is not.

“Right-to-Work” vs. “At-Will Employment”

Many times, people interchangeably use the phrases “right-to-work” and “at-will employment”. This is not necessarily correct.

At-will employment is when an employee works for an employer without a written contract that sets forth the terms of the employment relationship. Other than those who work in union positions, this represents the vast majority of employment relationships.

The opposite of “at-will employment” is “contract employment”, which is where a contract outlines the terms of employment, including the employee’s duties, work hours, length of employment, salary and benefits. Therefore, union employment is the opposite of at-will employment since a collective bargaining agreement or “contract” outlines the terms of union employment, including the employee’s duties, work hours, length of employment, salary and benefits.

However, confusion arises with the definition of right-to-work.

As previously stated, right-to-work means that an employee cannot be forced to join the union, but it does not mean that the employee will operate without a contract. In right-to-work states, an employee who opts-out of union membership will still be governed by the union’s collective bargaining agreement. Therefore, right-to-work employment situations are not at-will employment situations and these terms should not be used interchangeably.

Potential Changes on the Horizon?

In March 2021, the House passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. The PRO Act would remove states’ ability to impose their own right-to-work laws and allow unions to require represented employees to pay dues for representation.

To date, the Senate has yet to introduce a similar bill. Any changes to right-to-work issues will be dependent on whether the Senate produces a bill and if that bill includes right-to-work issues.

Learn More

PBMares strives to be a trusted advisor for our union clients. For assistance in determining how these and other collective bargaining issues can impact a union’s financial reporting requirements, including Beck Calculations and other compliance matters, contact PBMares partner Tim Heller.