Biggest Myths About The Right-To-Work Laws

Right-to-work laws protested

Advocates of right-to-work laws argue that right-to-work laws will benefit workers. Will they? What rights do these laws give employees -- and their bosses? AOL Jobs legal affairs blogger Donna Ballman, who is an employment attorney, answers a reader's question on this subject and in the process debunks what she says are common myths around these laws.

Q: I live in a right-to-work state. It actually benefits the employer. I was told by a manager that because it is a right-to-work state they have the right to fire at will. I also worked at Walmart here. I was told by management that it would be automatic firing if I discussed organizing a union.

A: You are absolutely right. While right-to-work supporters have done a great job of convincing employees that these laws will benefit them, the laws benefit employers way more than employees. The statistics are damning.

The AFL-CIO points out that right-to-work states tend to have lower average wages, spend less on education, have higher worker fatality rates and have lower standards of living. President Obama says this about right-to-work supporters, "What they are really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money."

Right-to-work laws recently passed in Michigan and Wisconsin. Supporters claim that these laws help create more jobs. But that's not the whole story. A recent study debunks this and demonstrates that the "more jobs" claim is a myth.

If you have any doubt about which side these laws benefit, look at who supports them. We're talking big business interests, chambers of commerce, and wealthy Republican donors. Do you really think these folks want to help the middle class worker? Nonsense. They want to help their own wallets and their friends in the 1 percent.

More: The Best Union In The Country?

Myths About Right-To-Work Laws

Americans are confused about right-to-work laws and what they actually mean. Here are common myths:

1. Right-to-work-laws say workers can be fired for any reason.

A common misperception is that, like my reader's question says, they mean an employer can fire employees for any reason or no reason at all. Right-to-work laws have absolutely nothing to do with this. What you're talking about here is at-will employment.

Every state but Montana is already an at-will employment state. At-will means your employer can fire you for any reason or no reason at all. Whether your employer doesn't like your shirt, wakes up in a bad mood, or just feels like it, they can fire you at-will unless you have a contract or union agreement saying otherwise.

A union can bargain to change this. Many union agreements have requirements that employers only terminate for just cause.

2. Right-to-work laws will stop employers from keeping you from working for competitors.

This is a common misconception. I hear this all the time regarding noncompete agreements, which are used to stop employees from leaving and working for a competitor for a year or more. "But this is a right-to-work state!" they cry. "They can't stop me from working." Yes. They can. Each state has different laws on noncompete agreements, but the general rule I offer is: Don't sign unless you can live with it. Never assume that you can get out of an agreement later. Always assume the employer will at least try to enforce it.

So what do right to work laws really mean?

In many states, if you work for a unionized employer, you must pay union dues. The reason for this is that you are bound by the union agreement, the union represents you in grievances, and they bargain for your wages and benefits.

Right-to-work is a movement that is trying to gut unions by cutting off their major source of funding. What these laws do is say you don't have to pay union dues if you work for a unionized employer, and you can't be turned down for employment just because you don't belong to the union.

While that may sound like a cost saving, I think failing to join your union is a mistake. If you aren't involved, how can you complain about what the union is doing? It's like complaining about Congress but not voting. If the union is going to represent you, it makes sense for you to have your voice heard. If you don't like what they're doing, get more involved, not less. Become a representative. Run for office. All that failing to join means is that your opinion doesn't matter.

The bottom line:

Right-to-work laws don't give employers the right to fire you at will. They already have that right. What these laws mean is that you'll have less ability to unionize and fight for better working conditions, wages and an agreement that your employer will only fire you for just cause.

More: How Employers Mistreat Workers -- Legally [Video]

Can an employer threaten employees who discuss unionizing?

After the recent round of strikes nationwide, Walmart executives are reportedly telling workers their benefits and bonuses "might go away" if they unionize.

But is that legal?

The National Labor Relations Act says in Section 7: "Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection. ..." Section 8 of the NLRA makes it illegal for an employer "to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in section 7." the National Labor Relations Board, the agency that enforces the NLRA, specifically says that an employer breaks this law if it engages in "Threatening employees with loss of jobs or benefits if they join or vote for a union or engage in protected concerted activity."

However, saying benefits "might go away" may be in the category of a "prediction" rather than a threat. A direct threat, like the one you mention in this question, is clearly illegal.

If your employer threatens you with termination if you discuss forming or joining a union, you should report them to the NLRB by filing a Charge Against Employer within 6 months of the threat or other coercion.

If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs. Please include your name and phone number. While I can't answer everything you send, anything you email to me could be featured in one of my columns, or an upcoming AOL Jobs Lunchtime Live video chat, which airs Fridays 12:30 pm EST, on AOL Jobs' Google+ page.

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Third paragraph under "So what do right to work laws really mean?" switches point of view to first person and introduces Max Dorfman's opinion into a neutral article. So, this "article" is now an editorial.

January 21 2016 at 11:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

FYI, many Americans care more about their country than their personal gains. Without a strong, free and brave country, those jobs mean nothing, because it will be the government that is the center of the focus. Unions blindly support Democrats, regardless of their stance on national security, national pride, our Constitutional rights, etc...! Why would I, someone who carries a bullet (compliments of those kind, peace-loving Islamic people) everywhere I go, minimize the sacrifices I and millions of other Americans made and continue to make, to keep the freedom that some brave, freedom-loving men and women gifted us - gave us something we had no right to - blindly fund and support unions, when they support those who have weakened this country and fight to take away the rights of those they disagree with. To me and many others (the majority of Americans) there is no conversation, until unions cease funding those politicians who hate what this county stands for and are a part of a movement whose primary mission is the re-write our Constitution and give all the power to a tyrannical government - the thing our founding fathers fled and doubt against. I would rather have a few "super-rich" citizens, than to be owned by a government and lose my freedom and rights, as an American. Which is worse? If someone wants to be supported, from birth, to the grave, by a government, there's plenty of places that offer that opportunity. It won't happen here, my friend - not without a fight. A wise gentleman once said, "Give me FREEDOM or give me death!". I bet most Democrats couldn't tell you who it was that said those words, nor do they truly understand the meaning behind them.

Unions were a great thing, before corruption changed their focus and whom they served. Correct those things and give a woman/man a choice; then and only then, will those like me entertain the legitimacy of unions in this country.

"Let Freedom Ring! Let the White Dove Sing! It's Independence Day!"!



January 05 2016 at 1:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If you live in an "at-will" state, giving the employer any reason to hire/fire an employee, how are ppl supposed to believe anyone is trying to help them? I live in FL & have been laid off every job I've had for the past decade. I go on interviews & still no luck. If an employer doesn't have to give me a reason it can be personal & I would never know. Is it safe to say no one cares about ppl trying to make a living or is this another realistic statement that I'm going to get a political response on? I called FL Dept of Labor the other day on the same topic & heard crickets on the other end. My r response "I'm sorry. I hope things get better for you". Ok. If the person that told me that ever has to learn job security doesn't exist maybe they'll understand what I mean.

April 02 2015 at 12:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am a labor and employment Attorney that at different points in my career has represented Unions and Employers. I would say the information is incomplete on both sides. For example "right to work' simply means an employee does not to have to join the Union or pay an agency fee to work in a place which has a CBA with a Union. An "at will" employee can be terminated for just cause or no cause but not for illegal cause.
Also the person that stated s/he was written up for attending a family funeral out of state. What did the CBA state about bereavement leave? What were the company's policies regarding notice for bereavement leave or other emergency type leaves? The company may have disciplined you because you did not comply with policy requirements, the Union then may not have had a case it could bring to grievance or arbitration. As for right to work vs. non right to work states employments rates, standards of living, education levels, and wages, New England states such as CT and MA have lower unemployment rates higher education levels, higher wages etc., neither on are right to work states. For all the stats that show increased employment in RTW states, one can find higher education levels, higher wages, better quality of available jobs, etc in states that have not passed RTW legislation.

February 18 2015 at 4:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
James Young

While some of the information here is accurate (particularly about at-will employment), much of it is far-Left propaganda, straight from the AFL-CIO and/or union-funded groups and/or union-funded politicians.

February 03 2015 at 6:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I paid union dues for years. I was not at work because I had an out of state death in the family and got a note from the funeral home. I got written up when I returned to work and the union told me they could not do anything for me because I missed work, even though I was at work when I got the bad news and let everyone know I would be off work. Since I lived in TN, and it is a right to work state, I promptly withdrew from the union! UAW people were steaming mad at me. I explained it my way, if you pay for lawyers and they don't represent you, stop paying them! That is exactly what I did!

July 28 2014 at 9:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Donna you know better than this. Your article is nonsense. You can't report something as "fact" when you are getting that information about the evils of right-to-work when it is from Union funded studies. Be honest and say that you have a stake in the argument; But don't act like you are reporting facts here. Their are also studies that show that right-to-work states have rebounded better since 2007 and that states have lower unemployment...which is the exact opposite of your argument. If unions were so great their membership wouldn't be dropping year after year.

June 27 2013 at 1:54 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to outfile's comment

I live in Colorado. A right to work state. I work at a big billion dollar corporation, without a union, or any other means of "A voice" for laborers. My company has decided that the minions make too much money. They started hiring people at a lower starting rate, they promised those of us who have worked there for years (without a raise in 8 years) that are wages would not be cut. Now, they are systematically firing those of us at the higher pay rate for "reasons" that are no reasons at all. Made up. Policy changes that we haven't been told about because they are allowed to change them without notice. All so they can replace us with people who will make 3 dollars an hour less than we do. I think we should ALL have unions. I think we should ALL have somebody to represent us, to be our voice. So, while my company is hiring A LOT of people, they are doing it at unlivable wages, and getting rid of people who were simply treading water before they were fired. These are the things that go on out here in the real world that the people living in the privileged world don't really see, or quite frankly care about. When we bring it up we hear "Well, you should have gone to college". I go to college now by the way. That is besides the point. It's a way for corporations to take any responsibility away from themselves for being "Slum Corps", and not doing the right thing by the people.

May 30 2015 at 7:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Isn't this just a blatant little propaganda bit? I have worked Union and nonUnion, and there has never been a time when I felt that paying 2hrs pay every month benefitted me at all.
There is another myth not mentioned here: "Unions have to honor their members votes". They certainly do not.
Comparing wages in states with right to work laws and those with out, is pure nonsense. The best wages are not in unionized industries, and have not been for many years. Workers have been voting with their feet to leave union workplaces for 50 years, and union membership has declined year after year, because they do not offer any real benefits.

April 28 2013 at 6:23 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kesac's comment

Kesak. Not sure you know what you're talking about. I have worked most of my life in no. Union employment. Almost every job I hadalways had some kind of cut backs, or some reason to eliminate positions lay off withhold wage Increases or benefits. Those that offered Insurance only paid a small portion leaving the employees with a high insurance cost for their families. If you ended up laid off or discharged you find yourself out on your rump pounding the pavement to find a new job to provide for your family. Although I've always found work on my own I was forced to take lowering paying jobs making it difficult to keep the house and feed my family. I have been a union carpenter now for 3 years. I have no worries of being layed off. In three years I have been layed off once for three weeks. When layed off I report to my union and they find me work. I have great health and dental that I don't pay a dime for and I make a godd wage. Also the union fights to ensure that I will be provided a safe workplace. I don't have to worry about taking work with a cut rate co that doesn't provide me with fall protection or the proper training necessary to perform my job safely. This is just scratching the surface. I am looking to move to North Carolina and I'm scared I won't be able to provide for my family If I do because carpenters make around $10 less an hour and I live in a middle of the road state. There are other states where carpenters make almost $10 more an hour than I do now. I just don't understand why anyone would not want to work for a union. No one controls me or forces me to make any decisions I don't want to make and the dues are miniscule to the benefits of being a union worker and are worth it for the representation I receive. We vote for our delegates and representatives they are not appointed without our votes. The whole right to work thing is benefitting someone along the lines and it sure as hell is NOT the employees.

June 08 2015 at 8:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jay Kishan

There are valid work at home jobs if you can weed out the scams. Humana, American Express, Enterprise Rent A Car, Hertz and several other companies hire work at home employees.

Just a reminder, work at home jobs are real jobs. You will have to work really hard to make decent money from them. Most work at home customer support jobs pay about $8 to $15.00 depending on your skill set.

There are several legitimate work at home jobs as listed below. Message me if you like to see more. None of them require you to put any money down.

American Express is hiring work from home travel counselors:

Enterprise Rent a Car, Hiton, U-Haul, Starwood Hotel etc are currently hiring work at home Reservation agents:

If you have special skills and experience, then you can earn more money. For example Humana hires Registered Nurses as telephonic personal nurses to advice their clients about medications. There are work at home Pharmacist and Pharmacy Technician jobs also.

When you see a work at home job advertisement, the key thing to look for is to find if that is a real company. If they are real companies (such as they have a real product or service and has been around for sometime) then they are good opportunities. These jobs positions will also mention the the specific requirements and there will be an interview process for selection.

But if the job advertisement makes ridiculous claims saying that you can make $500.00 to $1000.00 a day with a high school diploma and typing skills, then run as fast as you can. Also if they ask for money upfront then most often it is a scam.

Look at work at home portals such as the one below to find real work at home jobs.

December 23 2012 at 5:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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