ContractsCounsel Logo
Home Blog Right to Work Laws

Jump to Section

Right-to-Work Laws Definition

Right-to-work laws give workers the freedom to choose whether they want to opt out of labor union organizing in the workplace. However, non-right-to-work states may allow unions to negotiate contracts that require employees to pay union fees as a condition of employment.

There is some ambiguity surrounding right-to-work laws, possibly due to the slightly misleading title. While the term logically refers to the right to obtain employment, the term references labor union organizing. Over half of the states in the United States have enacted right to work legislation, which may also affect employment contracts that require only unionized workers to be hired.

This web page also defines right-to-work laws.

The Right-to-Work Law Debate

Right-to-work laws are contentious. Those who support the right to work view the issue primarily as personal choice and freedom. Each worker should have the option of joining or not joining a union. Some even consider it constitutionally, arguing that everyone has the right to decide how to handle the situation.

Those who oppose right-to-work laws typically argue that they are inherently “anti-union.” Federal law prohibits mandatory union membership, which serves no purpose other than to harm unions in some people’s eyes. Additionally, opponents argue that right-to-work laws erode union bargaining power, resulting in lower wages and benefits for workers.

Meet some lawyers on our platform

Steven S.

16 projects on CC
CC verified
View Profile

Linda W.

10 projects on CC
CC verified
View Profile

Tiffany O.

8 projects on CC
CC verified
View Profile

Valerie L.

77 projects on CC
CC verified
View Profile

Which States Have Right-to-Work Laws?

A right-to-work state enacts legislation that ensures no individual can be forced to join a labor union as an employment condition. Under Section 14(b) of the NLRA, states have the authority to enact these rules.

Per the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), the following 27 states have right-to-work laws:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

Employees can join a union at their direction and pay dues in the states referenced above. However, a collective bargaining agreement protects all workers regardless of membership. Employers in right-to-work states are forbidden from coercing employees into union membership or requiring that union membership or dues be an employment condition.

What Are Employees’ Rights Under Right-to-Work Laws?

Certain employees’ rights are not covered by a state’s right-to-work law but established by U.S. Supreme Court rulings. They have the option of joining or not joining a union, and union members have the option of resigning their union membership. Non-members may be required to pay only a proportionate share of the union’s established bargaining costs.

However, they may not be pressured to pay any fees until the union’s costs are stated and explained. They may challenge the union’s costs. Due to their sincere religious beliefs, employees who are unable to join or contribute to the union also have additional rights.

Do Companies Prefer Right-to-Work Laws?

Yes, companies prefer right-to-work laws. Right-to-work laws reduce the financial benefit of organizing in non-unionized workplaces. In addition, state governments try to enact right-to-work laws to reduce unemployment.

Right-to-Work Laws Pros and Cons

The original purpose of right-to-work laws was to rebalance power between workers and managers. They guarantee that employers can hire workers regardless of whether they are union members. However, there are right-to-work pros and cons to consider.

Below, we’ve detailed a side-by-side look at the pros and cons of right-to-work laws regardless of what side you’re on.

Right-to-Work Pros

Right-to-work supporters agree that workers should not be compelled to join a union if they don’t want to do so. These proponents believe that states that have a right-to-work law attract more businesses than states that do not have one. This is because companies would prefer to operate in an environment free of workplace disputes or the threat of labor strikes.

Pros of right-to-work laws include:

  1. Equality. All employees are treated equally under right-to-work laws, regardless of whether they are union members. Without this statute, workers not represented by a labor union could lag behind those who are. This ensures that protected classes’ rights are respected and that the company follows due process.
  2. Freedom. Employees are not compelled to join labor unions that they do not want to join. Workers can choose which union to join and when to join without feeling coerced. Additionally, they can remain unrepresented by a union if they so desire.
  3. Anti-corruption. Unions should be compensated solely for their services and the people they serve. When such a law is in place, it ensures that unions receive only the compensation for their labor, not additional compensation extorted from unwilling individuals.

Additionally, proponents of these laws agree that right-to-work states have a higher employment rate. They also have higher after-tax income for workers and a lower cost of living than non-right-to-work states.

Right-to-Work Cons

According to critics, workers in right-to-work states earn less than those in states without the law. Additionally, opponents argue that because federal law requires unions to represent all employees regardless of whether they pay union dues, free riders are encouraged to take advantage of union services. This adds to the maintenance and operating costs of a union organization.

Cons of right-to-work laws include:

  1. Decreases unionization. Right-to-work laws can negatively impact union membership numbers. Unions exist to bargain for workers who may be unlawfully terminated, forced to work in hazardous conditions, or agree to accept low wages to maintain employment. If union membership is voluntary, most industries may end up without a union.
  2. Insufficient health insurance. Unions have played a critical role in promoting improved health care coverage for workers and increased pay and other benefits. Right-to-work laws can lower wages. Without unions, people might not have the bargaining power they need.
  3. Non-member freebies. Non-dues-paying employees receive the same benefits as dues-paying union members. Unions will negotiate and campaign for increased wages, improved working conditions, and expanded benefits.

Critics assert that if businesses are given the option of operating without unions, they are likely to reduce safety standards for their employees. Further, by making it more difficult for unions to manage and represent workers, economic inequality will be exacerbated, resulting in a significant increase in corporate power over employees.

What Do Right-to-Work Laws Prohibit?

Right-to-work laws prohibit employers from requiring their workers to join a union. They also prohibit contracts that require employees to pay union fees as a condition of employment. With the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, an exception to the “union shops” rule was created, allowing individual states to prohibit union shops.

Does Right-to-Work Mean I Can be Fired for Any Reason?

No, right-to-work does not mean that you can be fired for any reason. You may be thinking of at-will employment. Right-to-work laws state that workers don’t have to join unions. In contrast, at-will employment signifies that your employer can terminate your role without cause.

If you have legal questions about hiring employees, including 1099 contractors, you must establish the proper agreements. A labor lawyer can draft contracts, such as employment contracts and severance agreements. In addition, they have the requisite experience and training necessary to factor in right-to-work laws when helping you plan your company’s legal strategy.

Post a project in ContractsCounsel’s marketplace to get flat fee bids from lawyers for your legal project. All lawyers are vetted by our team and peer-reviewed by our customers for you to explore before hiring.

ContractsCounsel is not a law firm, and this post should not be considered and does not contain legal advice. To ensure the information and advice in this post are correct, sufficient, and appropriate for your situation, please consult a licensed attorney. Also, using or accessing ContractsCounsel's site does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and ContractsCounsel.

Need help with an Employment Contract?

Create a free project posting
Clients Rate Lawyers 4.9 Stars
based on 11,053 reviews

Meet some of our Lawyers

Alan B. on ContractsCounsel
View Alan
5.0 (3)
Member Since:
November 25, 2023

Alan B.

Business Attorney
Free Consultation
Tulsa, OK
10 Yrs Experience
Licensed in MO, MS, OK
University of Tulsa College of Law

At Barker Law, we provide clients with expertise in contract drafting and review, outside general counsel services, negotiation, commercial litigation, and regulatory navigation. We confidently handle transactional and regulatory matters for businesses and individuals. As our feedback shows, we excel at meeting and exceeding our clients needs.

Ryan W. on ContractsCounsel
View Ryan
5.0 (11)
Member Since:
June 8, 2021

Ryan W.

Free Consultation
Mechanicsburg, PA
14 Yrs Experience
Licensed in PA
Widener University Commonwealth School of Law

Ryan A. Webber focuses his practice primarily on Estate Planning, Elder Law, and Life Care Planning. His clients range from young families concerned about protecting their family as well as aging individuals. Ryan provides Estate Planning, Trust Planning, Special Needs Planning, Public Benefit Planning, and Estate Administration. Ryan focuses on the holistic approach to the practice of elder law which seeks to ensure clients are receiving good care when needed and that they preserve enough assets with which to pay for such care. Many families and individuals also come to Ryan for preparation of their wills, power of attorney, and healthcare guidance documents. Additionally, Ryan assists small and medium sized business owners with their organizational and planning needs. From starting or winding down a business, Ryan provides quality business advice.

Scott S. on ContractsCounsel
View Scott
5.0 (18)
Member Since:
July 28, 2020

Scott S.

Free Consultation
New York, NY
43 Yrs Experience
Licensed in NY
New York University School of Law

I have over 25 years' experience representing individual and company clients, large and small, in transactions such as mergers and acquisitions, private offerings of securities, commercial loans and commercial endeavors (supply contracts, manufacturing agreements, joint ventures, intellectual property licenses, etc.). My particular specialty is in complex and novel drafting.

AJ M. on ContractsCounsel
View AJ
5.0 (3)
Member Since:
May 8, 2023


Managing Partner
Free Consultation
Atlanta, Georgia
27 Yrs Experience
Licensed in GA
U. Southern California

⛵AJ has practiced in entertainment, technology, intellectual property, data privacy and protection, a broad array of domestic and international transactions, finance, and as outside General Counsel for startup and growth companies.

Michael C. on ContractsCounsel
View Michael
5.0 (16)
Member Since:
May 12, 2023

Michael C.

Attorney and Business Consultant
Free Consultation
St. Paul, MN
16 Yrs Experience
Licensed in MN
Brigham Young University

I offer top-tier legal expertise in startups, corporate governance, and general legal research. As a professor and published author of research articles and conference presentations, I have established myself as a legal expert, writer, and scholar. My strong research skills and innovative thinking make me a highly capable business consultant, legal adviser, and copywriter. Currently a member of the Minnesota bar. Recent freelance projects include business plans, contract drafting, legal advisory memoranda, due diligence, pre-trial motion practice, and discovery review.

Tyler P. on ContractsCounsel
View Tyler
Member Since:
May 3, 2023

Tyler P.

Free Consultation
Los Angeles, California
2 Yrs Experience
Licensed in CA
Northwestern California University School of Law

I am an experienced business coordinator with years of experience operating within an international setting where I discovered my passion for contracts and helping people. I became an attorney later in life to further and enhance these passions and to be able to help those in similar positions as I was find the legal help they need, and work with clients on a rate that is a fraction of the cost of going to a larger firm.

Find the best lawyer for your project

Browse Lawyers Now

Quick, user friendly and one of the better ways I've come across to get ahold of lawyers willing to take new clients.

View Trustpilot Review

Need help with an Employment Contract?

Create a free project posting
Clients Rate Lawyers 4.9 Stars
based on 11,053 reviews
See All Business Lawyers
See All Right to Work Laws Lawyers

Contracts Counsel was incredibly helpful and easy to use. I submitted a project for a lawyer's help within a day I had received over 6 proposals from qualified lawyers. I submitted a bid that works best for my business and we went forward with the project.

View Trustpilot Review

I never knew how difficult it was to obtain representation or a lawyer, and ContractsCounsel was EXACTLY the type of service I was hoping for when I was in a pinch. Working with their service was efficient, effective and made me feel in control. Thank you so much and should I ever need attorney services down the road, I'll certainly be a repeat customer.

View Trustpilot Review

I got 5 bids within 24h of posting my project. I choose the person who provided the most detailed and relevant intro letter, highlighting their experience relevant to my project. I am very satisfied with the outcome and quality of the two agreements that were produced, they actually far exceed my expectations.

View Trustpilot Review

Need help with an Employment Contract?

Create a free project posting
Clients Rate Lawyers 4.9 Stars
based on 11,053 reviews

Want to speak to someone?

Get in touch below and we will schedule a time to connect!

Request a call

Find lawyers and attorneys by city