Right-to-work laws are increasingly becoming a part today’s business world. These laws give employees a choice as to whether or not they wish to join unions and contribute part of their pay to membership dues, as opposed to requiring them to join a union outright. The trend for such legislation is growing, and twenty-eight states now have these laws in place. For HR professionals who work in such states, or who have dealings with companies in other states with these laws, it is important to understand how these laws work and how it might impact any previous agreements among the parties concerned. HR professionals need to ensure that such policies do not negatively affect day-to-day business, where new Right to Work legislation can cause conflict among employees who may have different opinions on it. Below is information on how right-to-work legislation originated, its pros and cons, and what HR needs to be aware of in order to be legally compliant.
New Interest in Right to Work
Prior to the end of World War II, unions and employers were able to negotiate agreements in which only union members could be hired into an organization (a “closed shop”). With the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, individual states were allowed to outlaw such arrangements to protect those workers who did not want to join a union. While some states chose not to implement such rules and keep the previous system in place, seventeen states chose to pass right-to-work laws in the 1940s and 50s, with a few more states adopting them at other times over a 50-year period. During this period, the number of right-to-work states remained relatively unchanged. However, in 2012, states which previously had no interest in passing such legislation began to do so and there are signs that the federal government wants to introduce nationwide right-to-work legislation (although such legislation has been proposed in the past and has usually failed due to lack of support).
The Pros and Cons of Right to Work
Despite state-level labor laws, federal law states that unions must represent all employees and workers in a bargaining unit, even if some of those employees aren’t union members. Such a rule was meant to ensure that unions could be in a better bargaining position to negotiate benefits with companies, such as higher wages, vacation days, or health care premiums, and these benefits would apply to everyone. With right-to-work legislation, unions protest that, with right-to-work employees not paying union dues, it becomes harder to negotiate such benefits. Conflict has emerged between union and non-union workers over whether or not these right-to-work employees “pay their fair share,” as they still enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining without paying union dues. Right-to-work employees respond to this by stating that they oppose being forced to join a union, especially when some of their dues money might be used by the union for outside activities with which they may disagree. Some states without right-to-work laws, in response to such concerns, allow employees to only pay “agency fees”, which cover collective bargaining costs and doesn’t include such extracurricular expenses. Nevertheless, many employees prefer to choose whether or not to be part of a union. Support for right-to-legislation is also voiced by employers, who find operating in a right-to-work state easier, as labor laws are not as stringent.
What HR needs to know
How does this relate to HR professionals? With growing support for right-to-work laws, HR needs to be conscious of how individual employees in the organization are reacting to such legislation. Older employees, who are used to working in a union-friendly environment, might support continued union involvement, especially when such an environment encourages seniority in the organization. Millennial employees, however, are more independently-minded, want to be able to make their own decisions without input from unions and tend to opt out of union membership. On a day-to-day basis, the two groups, when working with one another, might come into conflict with each other on this issue, and this has the potential to hurt the overall organization’s productivity.
Consequently, HR professionals need to be at the top of their game when approaching this issue. They need to know the obligations that their organization has to any Collective Bargaining Agencies, as well as what they need to do in order to be legally compliant. As state legislation only comes into play when current labor contracts end, this gives HR time to formulate a response to new, incoming legislation. HR needs to clearly communicate to managers and employees how new rules will work. They need to be ready to answer questions on how to deduct union dues from one’s paycheck, especially if this action is done via a company self-service portal. At the same time, they need to provide employees who do not want to have such pay deducted, with information on how to navigate the system so that they can revoke such authorization. HR should continue to monitor any new developments on right-to-work legislation in their state and develop strategies on how to effectively respond to such laws to meet compliance. Finally, HR needs to engage with employees, not only communicating these new rules to them clearly and coherently, but also to be ready to resolve any conflicts that might arise between older employees and younger ones, who might disagree on the new legislation coming into place. By doing so, Human Resources professionals can stay connected to employees, and ensure a smooth transition for the organization, minimizing any disruption should new rules come into place.