Benefits of Working With a Union in Right-to-Work States

Union membership protects workers, establishes a more equitable workplace, and creates rich benefits for employers. Right-to-work states also somewhat complicate union membership, fees, participation, and more, leaving employers with big questions:

  • What is right to work?
  • How do you know if a state has a right-to-work law?
  • How does a right-to-work law impact employee rights, collective bargaining, and other elements of organized labor?
  • What are the benefits of working with a union in these states?

Read on for answers — and to learn what you can do to make union relationships even more valuable for your business.


What is a “right-to-work” state?

To understand the complexity involved in right-to-work laws, you’ll have to go all the way back to 1935, when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act into law.

In addition to establishing the National Labor Relations Board to protect workers and their rights to unionization, the so-called Wagner Act identified and penalized unfair employer practices. On the whole, the Act was a significant step forward for organized labor in the United States.

Things changed in 1947. Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act and, among other union limitations, made it unlawful for employment to be conditional upon union membership. President Truman vetoed the bill, saying, “It is unfair to the working people of this country. It clearly abuses the right […] to join together and bargain with […] employers for fair wages and fair working conditions.” The Act went on to become a key part of labor union functionality, however, as it opened the door to right-to-work or RTW laws.

These laws vary by state, but their purpose is generally to restrict union membership requirements, which means an employee can join a company at any position and refuse to join a labor organization or pay union fees.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the following are RTW states:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

In these states, it is unlawful to require anyone to pay union dues or even sign a union contract.


What do right-to-work laws mean for labor unions?

Critics of RTW laws say they create a power imbalance favoring the employer, severely restricting the effectiveness of union activity. These same people point out that federal law prohibits “forcing” anyone to join a union, meaning the additional laws are unnecessarily restrictive.

But what does that look like in practice, and what does it mean for your employees, union members or not?

Potential workplace issues

According to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, discrimination charges are 36% higher in right-to-work states. Additionally, a worker’s pay drops an average of 3.1% when RTW laws are passed.

Reduced union resources

Employees don’t have to join a union in a right-to-work state, but they still benefit from collective bargaining and other efforts to ensure good working conditions. That means unions are working harder with fewer resources and potentially lower membership rates.

Impacted bargaining power

Although the specifics depend on the state, specific laws, and employer, it’s possible for RTW scenarios to limit bargaining power. Between lower unionization rates and fewer available funds, unions may not be seen as equal to the companies they’re negotiating with — a clear destabilization of the protections and balances established by the Wagner Act.


Benefits of working with unions in a right-to-work state

Although the Taft-Hartley Act complicates labor union collaboration, you can still step up and create a beneficial relationship as an employer. You could see plenty of advantages from this arrangement, including the following:

Fewer discrimination issues

In a right-to-work state where unions have limited power to protect employees, your workers may feel unprotected from discrimination. But if you work with a union to identify and resolve these problems, create an equitable environment, and guarantee good conditions, you may see fewer claims of discrimination. That means less time spent on corrective action or even lawsuits, and more time spent with happier, increasingly productive teams.

Better communication

With fewer resources at their disposal, unions may have trouble juggling every need, request, and interaction. When you take initiative and actively communicate, unions don’t have to work as hard to get your attention or share their points — which means a stronger relationship and better outcomes for all.

Equitable benefits

RTW laws undermine a union’s power to ensure every employee gets the benefits they deserve. You can close this gap by understanding employee needs and delivering the perks that create a fair, safe work environment.

Improved retention

When a union and an employer work together, employees may see less day-to-day stress and strife. They’ll be able to focus on their tasks and find quick resolutions to their concerns. This, in turn, improves retention and employee satisfaction, building a stronger company culture.

Easier hiring

An environment with open communication and balanced collective bargaining might draw more applicants with desirable skills. After all, the best workers want to know you’re interested in protecting and supporting them — and when you collaborate with a union in a right-to-work state, you show you’re refusing to take advantage of an imposed power imbalance.


Learn more about working with labor unions

Labor unions can create rich advantages for employers and employees alike, but in RTW states, those advantages are a little harder to protect. That’s why it’s important to know what you can do to support unions and get more out of your relationship.

At we believe in the power of people coming together. We’re here to help unions work toward fairness and equality — and to help employers bridge the gaps and build stronger relationships.

See how we can help.