May 01, 2012 - 12:34pm

Not Quite Right on Right-to-Work

Senior Vice President, Employment Policy Division


At a Monday morning event, President Obama criticized right-to-work laws, stating: “I believe when folks try and take collective bargaining rights away by passing so-called right-to-work laws…that’s not about economics, that’s about politics.”

The President has, at times, shown better judgment on labor issues, in particular by declining to invest time and effort into Card Check legislation in the 111th Congress.  However, he seems to have the right-to-work issue backwards. 

Right-to-work laws do not take away collective bargaining rights for the simple reason that such laws can’t compel anyone to renounce union membership.  There are unions in right-to-work states (see Nevada), and an employer cannot decline to recognize and bargain with a union that has majority support simply because the company is located in a right-to-work state, such as Virginia. 

What right-to-work legislation actually does is allow individuals to refrain from belonging to, and financially supporting, an organization against his or her will.  It protects workers’ rights rather than the other way around.  It is for this reason that 23 states have passed right-to-work laws.

Unions dislike right-to-work laws for the obvious reason:  they prevent them from mandating financial support as a condition of employment.  If one wants to discuss things being “taken away,” look no further than non right-to-work states, where what is being extracted from workers is their right of free association and a portion of their paycheck.  

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About the Author

About the Author

Glenn Spencer Headshot
Senior Vice President, Employment Policy Division

Glenn Spencer is senior vice president of the Employment Policy division at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.