Michigan, last week, became the 24th state to pass right-to-work legislation. A bit of a misnomer, the term “right-to-work” does not guarantee anyone’s right to work per se. What it does guarantee is that when employees choose not to join a union, they cannot be compelled to pay any union dues or fees as a condition of their employment.

In contrast, a “closed shop” would require that all workers join the union, and hence pay dues, as a condition of being hired.

While such completely closed shops were outlawed decades ago, the modified form that exists today permits a mandated fee payment to the union by those who choose not to join.

An argument against right-to-work is that all employees enjoy higher wages and better benefits as a result of the union and thus should contribute. The counter argument, and basis for right-to-work laws, is that choosing to join a union and pay dues to it, or not, is each individual employee’s basic right.

The passage of the right-to-work law in Michigan, and one earlier this year in Indiana, is significant because the mid-West has historically been a stronghold for union activity.

Right-to-work laws tend to have a weakening effect on unions. Many companies have relocated jobs to states that have right-to-work laws; it has been argued that the laws, therefore, have a positive effect on the economies and unemployment rates in those states.

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