Right-to-work states: What that means for union employees

To date, there are 28 right-to-work states

Unionization efforts are mounting nationwide and while some of those efforts are kicking off in right-to-work states, others are not.

That distinction, however, is very important.

"It's cleverly named because it really has nothing to do with any right to work or not," Dave Dodson of the Stanford Graduate School of Business told FOX Business.

Simply put, it will determine if employees will have to shell out union dues, regardless of whether they want to be a part of the union. 


For instance, within the 28 right-to-work states, employees cannot be forced to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of their employment, according to Misty Marris, co-managing partner at Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani LLP. They also can't be penalized in any way for not paying dues if they decline to join. 

Signs supporting the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union are shown near an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., on Thursday, March 10, 2022.  ( (AP Photo/Jay Reeves) / AP Newsroom)

Employers in right-to-work states "cannot compel a new or existing employee to join, stay or leave the union," either, Marris said. "It is the employee's choice entirely."


However, even if an employee declines to join the union and does not pay dues in those states, they will still be protected by the union's collective bargaining agreement, according to Marris. This includes wages, seniority, vacations, pensions, health insurance and other employee protections that are negotiated in the contract. 

For example, Dodson said that if a union negotiates an extra 15-minute break and $1.50 an hour in pay, employees in a right-to-work state can get those benefits without paying union dues.

Therefore, "even non-members enjoy the benefits of the union that come through the collective bargaining process," Marris added. 

Richard Bensinger, left, who is advising unionization efforts, along with baristas Casey Moore, right, Brian Murray, second from left, and Jaz Brisack, second from right, discuss their efforts to unionize three Buffalo-area stores, inside the movemen (AP Photo/Carolyn Thompson / AP Newsroom)

Comparatively, in a non-right-to-state, employees can be required to join a union and pay dues as a condition of employment, although there are exemptions to this. Those union dues can be taken directly out of an employee's paycheck, according to Marris. 

However, that can vary from state to state. For instance, some non-right-to-work states may not force employees to join a union, but they will still have to pay union dues. 

Marris also said it's important to note that those laws relate to the private sector. 


According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), "the amount of dues collected from employees represented by unions is subject to federal and state laws and court rulings." 

However, Dodson said union dues usually average about $33 a month or $1 a day. 

With that said, there are many arguments for and against right-to-work laws, according to Marris. 

For instance, opponents of right-to-work states argue that the laws "weaken the union by reducing the amount of revenue they get in union dues and deprives the union of the funding they need to protect employees," she said. 

Amazon union

A banner encouraging workers to vote in labor balloting is shown at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala.  (AP Photo/Jay Reeves, File / AP Newsroom)

It's also argued that since employees in right-to-work states are enjoying all the benefits and employee protections that the union provides without paying, "the burden is placed on the members for the benefit of all," Marris added. 

Conversely, advocates say "mandatory membership is a violation of a worker's personal freedom and a violation of the First Amendment," she said. 

It's also argued that "many unions have political affiliations that employees may not agree with, therefore they should have a choice whether to affiliate," according to Marris. 

Here are the 28 right-to-work states: 

  • Arizona
  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Nebraska
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • North Dakota
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Texas
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

As of April 2022, West Virginia right-to-work legislation is pending.