One of the most controversial current labor-related topics is the so-called “right to work” laws. Depending on who you ask, these right to work laws have been passed to protect the right of workers to not be forced into union membership. Conversely, these laws were enacted to help businesses pay less for labor by impeding unions’ ability to organize and provide the better benefits and pay that almost always accompany union jobs. Either way, these laws mean jobs can’t require union membership as part of working anywhere in the states that have passed them.
South Carolina adopted the so-called “right to work” statute in 1954. Therefore, these aren’t new laws to South Carolina meaning many South Carolinas may be unfamiliar with the benefits and drawbacks of labor union membership. South Carolina’s mean hourly pay in May 2013 was $14.56, in comparison to $16.87 for the entire country.
South Carolina’s right-to-work laws are briefly outlined in the following table.
|Code Sections||South Carolina Code Title 41: Labor & Employment, Chapter 7: Right to Work|
|Policy on Union Membership||The denial of the right to work because of membership or non-membership in a labor organization is against South Carolina’s public policy.|
|Prohibited Activity||Employers and labor organizations (AKA unions) can’t deny non-members the ability to accept a job or require union membership as part of a job. Requiring labor organization membership or refraining from joining unions or the payment of dues as a condition of employment is prohibited in South Carolina.
Deducing any dues, such as union dues, from an employee’s wages without the employee’s authorization is also prohibited. However, as people may want to be in a union for the benefits they receive from labor bargaining contracts the union enters into with an employer, you can choose to get your dues deducted from your paycheck. Any contracts between unions and employers can’t require union membership or they are illegal.
|Penalties||Any employer, labor union, or other person who violates the South Carolina right-to-work laws commits a misdemeanor. The possible punishment is 10 to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of $1,000 to $10,000.
In addition, the employer, union, or other person who violates these laws can be fined a civil penalty of not more than $10,000 for each offense by the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (LLR).
If a person’s rights are violated by an act made unlawful by the right-to-work laws, that person can sue the person who wronged them. For example, if a person was required to pay union dues against his or her will. The person may be compensated actual damages, costs, and attorneys' fees. In addition, the court can assess 3x the damages and punitive damages.
If you believe you’re employer is not following the right to work laws, you can report that to the LLR Office of Investigations and Enforcement at 803-896-4470.
If you’re an employer and need help understanding these laws or have been accused of violating them, you should speak with an experienced South Carolina employment law attorney.
Note: State laws change all the time, you should conduct your own legal research to verify these laws.
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