State Right-to-Work Fights are Heating Up

In right-to-work states, unions are forbidden from automatically charging representation fees to workers in unionized shops. Roughly half of the states have right-to-work laws. Organized labor fears right-to-work laws because of what they call the “free rider” problem. The union in a unionized workplace is obligated to represent the entire bargaining unit. But, under right-to-work laws, individual employees within that bargaining unit are under no obligation to pay dues in exchange for that representation. Republicans, who generally favor right-to-work laws, now command bicameral majorities in 30 out of 50 state legislatures. In 23 states, the party holds both chambers of the legislature and the governorship. The same is true for Democrats in just seven states.

In Pennsylvania, a conservative group known as the American Future is taking advantage of the new legislative session to push pension reform and “paycheck protection,” which would ban unions from spending automatically deducted representation fees on political advocacy. In Illinois, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has proposed establishing “right-to-work zones” in various regions of the state, where businesses would be able to operate with fewer government regulations much to the chagrin of Illinois unions.

Similar to Illinois’ right-to-work zones, Kentucky has right-to-work counties. Interestingly, Hardin County passed an ordinance making it a misdemeanor to force employees covered under the National Labor Relations Act (any private sector, non-supervisor) to join or pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. The ordinance also barred hiring hall agreements that exclusively allow unions to refer workers for employment. The AFL-CIO and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union have filed a lawsuit aimed at invalidating the county-by-county law arguing that it is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act. According to the unions, the Act only allows a state or territory, not county, to pass right-to-work laws.

Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at