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Details on State Right-to-Work Laws

As labor unions began to organize and to bargain with employers on behalf of their members, a number of legal issues began to arise. For instance, if a union negotiated a contract with a company, did the contract cover only union members, or those employees who refused to join the union too? Could the union insist that the employer refuse to hire nonunion members? If a member violated some union policy, could the union insist that the employer fire the employee?

To say that the union had the power to decide who worked and who did not meant that the employer was deprived of a fundamental right in running his business. Conversely, if an employer who hired and fired whom he pleased, it meant that, potentially, the union contract could be undermined simply by hiring nonunion employees.

Over the years an intricate system of rules, regulations, and laws has evolved to manage the many thorny issues that have arisen in the context of union contracts, including the protection of the rights of nonunion employees to work for unionized employers. These "right to work" laws generally forbid both unions and employers from denying a nonunion employee a job solely on account of his union status. Twenty-five states are currently "right to work" states. Twenty-five and the District of Columbia have no statutory provision, apparently allowing the union to bargain with the employer for the right to insist upon union membership as a condition for employment.

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