State Labor Law Reforms

Friday, July 21, 2017 - 9:30am

Labor policy in the United States is determined, to a large degree, at the federal level. Through statutes like the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) the federal government essentially sets the contours of the playing field, although in different ways. In the case of the NLRA, robust preemption limits the scope for state and local government to intervene in labor matters. By contrast, the FLSA “sets the floor,” but gives other levels of government the ability to go beyond what is spelled out in the Act with regard to wages and overtime protections.

Policy discussions on labor and employment issues in Washington, D.C., have frequently been contentious, and in recent years many significant legislative proposals have become mired in gridlock. The result is that some state and even local governments have begun taking up labor and employment law reforms on their own.

High-profile examples in recent years include enactment of right-to-work in Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Important but lesser-known reforms include the Nevada legislature’s passage of a mass picketing statute in 2015, a Tennessee statute that allows threats associated with union organizing to be prosecuted under the state’s bribery and extortion law, and state preemption statutes. 

In May 2016, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Freedom Initiative released a report highlighting labor law reforms that states can enact to foster a favorable business environment. State Labor Law Reform: Tools for Growth, reviews 10 specific reforms that have been adopted by various states in recent years.

The reforms featured in the report include:

  • Right-to-work laws
  • State franchise law reform
  • Prohibitions on “labor peace” agreements
  • Prohibitions on “project labor” agreements
  • Preemption of minimum wage and other city ordinances
  • Preemption of “wage theft” laws
  • Mass picketing legislation
  • Trespassing legislation
  • Classifying “neutrality” and “card check” agreements as things of value
  • Prohibiting “card check” union organizing for public employees

While there are some limits based on federal preemption, states do have ample scope to take action. The 10 proposals listed above have all been passed in various state legislatures, and many of them have already withstood court challenges. For states wishing to nurture a positive economic climate, there are many tools available.