The Right-to-Work Laws and Debates

Subject: Law
Pages: 5
Words: 1192
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: Bachelor


The United States of America has enacted numerous labor laws aimed at the protection of both employers and employees. However, the necessity and the effect of many such laws on the stakeholders often fall under question. Thus, the most debated laws in the country are Right-to-Work laws. This essay will discuss the Right-to-Work laws, the debate surrounding them, the advantages and disadvantages for various stakeholders, and the potential future implementation in the country.


Right-to-Work laws have a long history in the United States of America. They were proposed as a countermeasure to the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) (Makridis, 2017). The act allowed laborers from the private sector to form unions and “enter collective-bargaining agreements; the agreements required every employee covered by the contract to pay dues to the negotiating labor organization” (Makridis, 2017, p. 716).

Additionally, the act ensured the workers’ right to strike, protest, and engage in other collective actions (Fisk & Reddy, 2020). In 1947, NLRA was amended by the Taft-Hartley Act that allowed state governments to supersede union contracts by authorizing Right-to-Work laws (Makridis, 2017). This amendment of the NLRA ensured the employees’ right to refrain from joining a union and participating in its activities. Moreover, the 1947 act restricted the associations’ right to protest, banning such actions as “picketing, strikes, boycotts, and political activity” (Fisk & Reddy, 2020, p. 98). Overall, the act substantially restricted the activities and power of labor organizations given to them by the NLRA.

The Taft-Hartley Act was proposed after a series of major strikes organized by labor unions. It has to be noted that the act was passed by the first Republican-dominated Congress since the enactment of the NLRA in 1935 (Fisk & Reddy, 2020). Initially, the act was vetoed by President Truman, who believed it would incite more strikes and deprive laborers of union protection (Truman, 2019). However, Congress disagreed and passed the bill over the presidential veto. Overall, the act defined employees’ and employers’ rights and ensured that all workers benefit from labor associations regardless of the membership (Epstein, 2018). The last amendment about the non-members profiting from the union actions became widely debatable and is the center of the contemporary discussion on the Right-to-Work laws.

Right-to-Work Debate

The modern debate revolves primarily around workers being coerced to pay union fees and benefiting from its pursuits regardless of their membership. The supporters of the laws argue that the requirement that all employees must pay fees infringes on their freedom (Rodriguez, 2018). In addition, compulsory payment can contribute to an industry with union presence becoming unattractive to potential workers and preventing economic growth (Rodriguez, 2018). Overall, the necessity to pay fees may deter prospective employees from applying for the job as their rights in the workplace will be represented exclusively by the labor organization. The collective action and activism may also dissuade some of the applicants from pursuing a position in the company as they may disagree with the association’s policies and direction.

The opponents of the laws argue it is unfair that non-members benefit from the union’s negotiations with the employers without paying any fees, unlike their counterparts who pay for their memberships. It is argued that Right-to-Work laws contribute to creating “an intolerable free-rider situation” as employees who choose not to pay fees still benefit from it (Epstein, 2018, p. 99). In 1991 Justice Scalia asserted that refusal to join a union is calculated by the non-members who want to profit from them without any financial contribution (Epstein, 2018). Furthermore, it can be claimed that Right-to-Work laws weaken labor associations by allowing personnel to refuse membership.

According to Epstein (2018), the opponents of the laws maintain the laws negatively impact unions’ powers, leading to them not being able to support political candidates and initiatives. It has to be noted that such organizations tend to endorse Democratic politicians, leading to the belief that Right-to-Work laws backed by the Republican party undermine the support for the Democrats on the state level (Epstein, 2018). Overall, the Taft-Hartley Act’s opponents claim that the laws are unfair to the paying members.

Opinion on the Issue

Right-to-Work laws and their ethical applications present a complex issue. From the unions’ point of view, these laws can be seen as damaging. The Taft-Hartley Act allows employees not to pay fees but still benefit from the work the organization undertakes on behalf of all workers. The tendency leads to the union not receiving the financial resources it needs to conduct its activities and negotiate with companies on behalf of its members. In addition, labor groups with limited financial resources are unable to support political candidates. Thus, it can be conclusively claimed that Right-to-Work laws are not beneficial for the unions.

From the perspective of the employees, the Taft-Hartley act can be both advantageous and disadvantageous. The act forbids labor associations from coercing workers to pay fees and ensures that the absence of a union membership does not affect employment (Makridis, 2017). Non-members also benefit from all the group’s negotiations with employers without any financial investment. Furthermore, individuals are not required to pay for the support of political candidates they disagree with but endorsed by the associations representing them. However, there is a clear disadvantage for members who pay the necessary fees but receive the same advantages as their non-member counterparts. It can also be argued that the underfunded unions are not capable of performing their duties well, leading to fewer benefits being negotiated for both paying members and non-member employees.

It can be assumed that Right-to-Work laws are advantageous for employers as they substantially limit labor organizations’ power and prevent employee strikes and protests. These laws also contribute to the workplace being more competitive as workers can negotiate their salary based on their merits, not union demands for higher wages for all personnel. Similarly, it can be argued that without the protection of these groups, workers are at a higher risk of losing their job and, thus, are more accountable for their actions in the workplace.

Considering the advantages and disadvantages of the laws for the involved stakeholders, it can be concluded that their benefits outweigh the costs. They contribute to the employees being more competitive and ensure that unions do not have power over the employers. However, labor associations are still able to negotiate on behalf of workers when needed. Currently, the country is divided 50:50 in terms of state with and without such laws being enacted. As unions tend to be strong supporters of the Democratic party, it can be predicted that Right-to-Work laws will be repealed in states with the democratic majority to secure more support in future elections.


In summary, Right-to-Work laws ensure unions do not have excessive power both over employers and employees. The Taft-Hartley Act passed in 1947, regulates the work of labor organizations, limiting their influence and banning them from coercing all the workers to pay membership fees. These laws are beneficial for the businesses and their employees; however, they have certain drawbacks for unions and their paying members. Furthermore, underfunded labor associations cannot endorse political candidates, which can be either advantageous or disadvantageous for various stakeholders.


Epstein, R. A. (2018). The misconceived modern attack on Right to Work laws. The University of Chicago Legal Forum, 2017, 95-118.

Fisk, C. L., & Reddy, D. S. (2020). Protection by law, repression by law: Bringing labor back into the study of law and social movements. Emory Law Journal, 70(1), 63-152.

Makridis, C. A. (2017). Do Right-to-Work laws work? Evidence from individual well-being and economic sentiment. SSRN Electronic Journal, 62(4), 713-745. Web.

Rodriguez, J. (2018). Pros and cons of Right to Work. The Balance Small Business. Web.

Truman, H. S. (2019). Veto of the Taft-Hartley labor bill. Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum. Web.