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You are Here: Home > Unions > Right to Work

Right to Work

You might be surprised to learn that the right to work legal concept is not the same as the Doctrine of Employment at Will, as it's not unusual for workers to innocently confuse one with the other.

Right to work means that American workers may choose whether or not to join unions without consequence, such as employer or union retaliation. It also means that workers may resign union membership at anytime without consequence.

In other words, right to work means that employers and unions may not pressure, coerce or otherwise force workers to join unions or keep their union memberships intact as a condition of employment.

The remainder of this "Right to Work" summation is primarily for private-sector workers. However, the right to work might differ somewhat for certain private-sector workers, such as airline and railroad workers. It might also differ somewhat for public-sector workers. Regardless, resources for most workers are provided below.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) prohibits such behavior by private-sector employers and unions. It's a Federal labor law that grants workers the right to join and form unions and participate in protected union activities, while its right to work provisions grant workers the right to refrain from such.

The equivalent Federal labor law for Federal government workers is the Civil Service Reform Act. The equivalent for railroad and airline workers is the Railway Labor Act (RLA). For state and local public-sector workers, equivalent laws vary by state and municipality, such as state right to work laws.

Even if workers choose not to join unions, their rights still entitle them to the same union representation as that received by union members in the same bargaining units. But, under the NLRA and through union-security agreements (or clauses in collective bargaining agreements), nonmembers might have to pay dues for their share of union representation, if state right to work laws don't make it illegal. The dues that nonmembers pay for this purpose are sometimes referred to as agency fees or fair-share fees.

Update: In the case of Harris v. Quinn, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 30, 2014 that nonmember home health care workers who care for Medicaid recipients do not have to pay fair-share fees to unions.

As indicated, states may enact right to work laws that expand NLRA worker union protections, as several have. Those that have enacted state right to work laws are commonly called right to work states.

Right to work laws vary by state, but they generally protect the right to work without joining unions, or paying union dues or so-called agency fees. Some state right to work laws also reinforce the workers' rights granted by the NLRA to form and join unions, and participate in protected union activities.

If an employer or union has violated any aspect of your right to work under the NLRA and if you're a private-sector worker not regulated by the RLA, then you may file an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB is a Federal government agency that enforces the NLRA.

However, because it receives thousands of complaints annually, the NLRB might focus only on your personal interests that are also for the good of all private-sector workers; but, you're entitled to hire your own attorney to represent all of your appropriate personal interests if you wish. You might also be entitled to collect attorneys' fees, court costs and damages.

Subsequently, consulting an attorney prior to filing a charge with the NLRB might be a good idea. An attorney will likely file a more-compelling charge than you can in legalese, to increase your chances that the NLRB will act on your behalf. (The NLRB finds merit in only about one-third of the charges it receives annually.)

An attorney will likely also let you know if it might be a better idea to instead take legal action under a state right to work law. If an employer or union has violated any aspect of your rights under a state right to work law, then you might be entitled to sue or file for an injunction in state court. You might also be entitled to collect court costs, attorneys' fees and damages.

Whether you file a charge with the NLRB or consult an attorney first, don't delay for long. At this writing, a six-month statute of limitations applies for taking legal action under the NLRA. A similar statute of limitations likely applies for taking legal action under a state right to work law.

To discover more about your right to work and other union rights, consult an attorney or conduct research. Good places for all workers to start researching are listed below.

Listed below are additional research resources for the workers specified.

Workers might also try browsing the Web sites of their unions and employers for information about their right to work and other union rights.

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