Heard It on the Hotline: What Is a "Right-to-Work" State?

April 02, 2024
Inside HR
Employee & Labor Relations
Read time: 2 mins

Q: What is a “right-to-work” state, and how does it impact our employees?

A: The term "right-to-work" is often misunderstood. Federal law already prohibits employers from forcing an employee to join a union. So, why do states have "right-to-work" laws? Generally, employees in a "right-to-work" state cannot be required to enter into an agreement that requires membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment; i.e., they cannot be required to pay membership dues to a labor organization.

If an employee works in a state that does not have "right-to-work" legislation, the employee cannot be forced to become a member, but they can be required to financially support a labor organization by paying membership dues (agency or shop fees) as a condition of employment.

Even if an employee opts out of membership or the paying of dues for membership, the collective bargaining agreement may apply. States with "right-to-work" laws generally require that union contracts cover all workers, even those who are not members/do not pay dues.

More than half of the states in the U.S. currently have "right-to-work" laws: 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, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. In 2023, Michigan was the first state to repeal "right-to-work" legislation. MRA’s core states are split: Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, and Wisconsin have "right-to-work" laws; Illinois, Minnesota, and Ohio do not. Employers should know that "right-to-work" laws vary by state. They are different for private and public employers. And they have occupation restrictions. Multistate employers should consider differing local "right-to-work" laws and seek expert counsel whenever collective bargaining is a factor.