Right to Work Law – Definition

Cite this article as:"Right to Work Law – Definition," in The Business Professor, updated September 10, 2019, last accessed October 20, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/lesson/right-to-work-law-definition/.


Right-to-Work Law Definition

The right-to-work law is a law that states that workers have the right to work in workplaces without joining the union or being unionized. This law prohibits workers from being prevented from engaging in employment because they have refused to join the union or pay union dues. Hence, union membership is optional for employees according to the right-to-work law.

‘Workplace Freedom’ or ‘Workplace Choice’ are other terms that have the same meaning as the right-to-work-law. According to the law, not joining a union in a workplace should not prevent people from working or participating in productive employment.

A Little More on What is a Right-to-Work Law

Franklin Roosevelt, a former President of the United States signed the Wagner Act or the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) into law in 1935. According to this law, employers can engage in employment negotiations or bargaining with labor unions. Employees were also expected to join the union and pay fees to union for protecting the rights of the workers. Hence, NLRA restricted employment to only workers who have union membership and make payments to the union.

The right-to-work law however gives workers the freedom to join the union of their workplace or otherwise. And if workers decide not to join, non-membership should not prevent workers from engaging in employment.

History of the Right-to-Work Law

The amendments of NLRA gave rise to the right-to-work law. Some provisions of the NLRA was amended in 1947 by pppPresident Harry Truman, this amendment made provision for the Taft-Hartley Act, under which was the right-to-work law. When passes, the right-to-work law disallowed compulsory membership of the union as a requirement for working in the private or public sector. According to the law, individuals can choose to join the union or otherwise.

Not all states in the United States adopted the right-to-work law, states that did not pass this law still make union membership as a requirement to work in public and private sectors. However, about 28 states passed laws which eradicated union membership as a requirement for gainful employment.

According to the proponents of right-to-work law, mandatory union membership as a criteria to join the workforce of a company is illegal. Rather, workers can exercise the right whether to join the union or otherwise. States that have passed the right-to-work laws are said to have higher employment rates than states that do not. These states also attract foreign investments and businesses. Despite the fact that workers are not mandated to join unions or pay union fees in the states that adopted right-to-work law, labor unions still operate in these states. This is because employees who still wish to join the unions and be financial members have the liberty or right to do so.

The critics of right-to-work law have argued that states that adopted the law tend to record lower wages due to the lower cost of living in such states. Employees in these states are poorly paid compared with states that do not pass the right-to-work law. Another criticism against right-to-work law is that it allows businesses to operate without the unions and this would have an effect on the safety standards that these businesses put in place for their workers. Also, inequality in the workplace is attributed to the passage of the right-to-work law, given that the union does not protect the interest of majority or workers which make economic inequality thrive in workplaces.

Recently, the National Right to Work Act was introduced to enable  workers who are members of unions to opt out of union membership.

References for “Right-to-Work Law


https://www.thebalancecareers.com › Career Paths › Technology Careers › Job Search



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