Some U.S. states are classified as "right-to-work" states. Many people wrongfully use "right to work" interchangeably with "employment-at-will," but these two are quite different. While the term sounds like the right to have a job or keep one once you have it, it is related to membership in a labor union. If a state is a right-to-work state, this means that there are laws that allow residents to work without being forced to join a union or pay union fees.
Right-to-work laws are hotly debated. Proponents argue that the laws allow personal choice and freedom for the worker. They argue that it's unfair to force employees into union fees deducted from their pay. Opponents view the laws as "anti-union" and serve no purpose other than to harm unions. They also believe the laws weaken unions' bargaining strength, consequently lowering wages and benefits. Furthermore, they find it unfair for employees to benefit from unions while not contributing to the union dues.
Often, unions try to convince employers to sign contracts requiring all employees to pay union fees to be employed. In states where there are right-to-work laws, employers and labor unions are prohibited from forcing any employee that is not part of the union to pay fees. Some states also include language that prohibits employers and unions from requiring union membership as a condition for employment.
In the following states, right-to-work laws designate that payment of union dues or fees can't be a requirement for employment: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
In some states, it is outright prohibited to use the payment of union fees as a condition of employment. In others, it is not allowed unless it is in writing.
The states that have laws against union membership as a condition of employment are 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, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. The penalties for employers or unions that violate these laws vary by state. In some states, victims can sue for damages. Other states will punish offenders with fines, imprisonment, or a combination of both.
The table below contains all right-to-work states and the year that their laws were enacted.