Unionization isn’t Dead: How Unions Can Remain Relevant Despite Trend of States Becoming Right-to-Work

Wisconsin recently became the 25th state to go right-to-work. Now exactly half of the states in the country allow employees to opt-out of paying union dues even though the union has an obligation to represent everyone in their workplace. As you can imagine, unionization rates in right-to-work states are far below rates in compulsory unionism states. From a business perspective, you can’t blame unions for not spending money recruiting members in states where those members do not have to pay union dues.

Modern unions are changing with the times. They have recognized that traditional union organizing methods have resulted in decreased unionization rates each year for the past several years. For those unions, creativity will, they hope, propel them into the future. Short of having Congress repeal the part of the Taft Hartley Act that allows states to pass right-to-work laws, some of the proposed efforts may work, others are sort of wacky.

Unions may allow for “members-only unions.” Currently, if enough people do not voluntarily pay union dues, the union becomes weaker. But, if the union only had to serve those who supported it financially, it would take less money to administer the contract and the union would not be weakened. As such, only employees who pay dues are covered by the collective bargaining agreement. Some other options are:

  • Require disclosure of wage and salary information, which would allow workers to bargain for higher pay if they’re being lowballed relative to their colleagues.
  • Make union elections automatic by giving employees a default chance to vote on representation every few years. Personally, I’d like employees to have an automatic decertification vote every few years.

Unionization isn’t dead. Connecticut’s percentage of unionized workforce rose last year. In Las Vegas, the Culinary Union represents 90% of the hotel and casino employees – and Nevada is a right-to-work state. Indiana’s unionization rate has remained steady both before and after 2012 when it became a right-to-work state. And we all know that the National Labor Relations Board is doing everything (and then some) in its power to make it easier for employees to unionize. So, instead of spending so much time and energy trying to change laws, unions should focus on their successes and reminding employees of a union’s core competencies.

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 maustin@ralaw.com.