Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 26, 2020

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A right-to-work law means that, in order to work at a particular job, the employee is not required to join a labor union or pay union dues in order to be represented equally. At this time, 22 of the 50 states in the United States have right-to-work laws in place. In order to understand how they work, you must first understand how a labor union functions.

 Understanding Right to Work Laws

Many fields of employment have organized labor unions, which are essentially organizations that are designed to protect the right to work of their members. Employees may join the union, typically for a fee, and afterward be represented by it. The terms of employment for a union member – including wages, hours worked, and the nature of the work – are dictated by the union contract, ensuring that the member’s rights are protected.

In some cases, however, an employee may end up in a pressurized situation–while joining a union may be extremely beneficial for the person, he or she may be unwilling or unable to pay the dues. This creates a tricky situation in which some employees may be protected by the union and others, through no fault of their own, are not – and the fact that the lack of protection is due to the employee’s unwillingness to pay a fee is very close to extortion or blackmail. In some cases, an employer may be unwilling to hire non-union workers, or even unable to do so, because of the existing contract with the union itself, which prevents the hiring of those outside of the organization.

Thus, the right-to-work laws come into play. These laws give any employee the right to hold a job without having to join a union or pay dues, and the union rules must still apply to the employee. In other words, the union still protects the employee’s rights even without him or her having to pay up. The laws also work the other way around, stating that a person cannot be compelled by his or her employer to avoid joining a union should he or she wish to do so. All states in the U.S. have the right to enact right-to-work laws as they see fit.

If you have additional questions about right-to-work laws, be sure to get in touch with an attorney.