By amending the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (also known as the “Wagner Act”), the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act allowed states to forbid “agency shop” collective bargaining agreements.[*] These types of contracts require all employees, as a condition of their lawful employment, to financially support a union — either through membership dues or “agency fees.”[†] Right-to-work laws enable employees to continue their employment without regard for their status in or financial support of a union.

The first states to pass right-to-work laws did so in the 1940s and 1950s and were located primarily in the Southeast and Great Plains.[‡] Altogether, 24 states have passed right-to-work laws (see the light gray states in Graphic 1). The two most recent adopters were Indiana and Michigan, the latter of which has one of the highest unionization rates in the nation.[2]

Graphic 1: States With Right-to-Work Laws, 2013

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Graphic 1: States With Right-to-Work Laws, 2013 - click to enlarge

[*] For more information about the NLRA, see: Robert P. Hunter, "Michigan Labor Law: What Every Citizen Should Know," (Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 1999), 9-11, (accessed July 30, 2013).

[†] For more information about agency shop agreements, see: Robert P. Hunter, "Compulsory Union Dues in Michigan," (Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 1997), 10-11, (accessed July 30, 2013).

[‡] Some state legislatures registered their displeasure with the Wagner Act by passing ineffectual right-to-work laws before the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. For the purposes of this study, states that have right-to-work laws will be referred to as “right-to-work states.” States without such laws will be referred to as “non-right-to-work states.”


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