By Robert W. Burns
The Wisconsin Legislature has passed, and Governor Scott Walker has declared he will sign, a “Right to Work” law in Wisconsin. The law will apply to private sector union contracts, prohibiting such contracts from including provisions that require all the employees covered by the contract to be members of the union or pay dues (or other fees in lieu of dues) in order to remain employed. Those provisions are commonly referred to as union security clauses. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 affirmed the right of individual states to enact right to work laws, and Wisconsin is now the 25th state to do so.
Right to Work laws are vigorously opposed by unions because they outlaw union security provisions which provide a guaranteed source of income from the employees in the represented bargaining unit because the contract requires deduction of dues or other fees directly from paychecks. Under right to work laws, the individual employees have the choice to pay and, assuming some will choose not to pay, the unions risk providing representation services for employees who are not contributing to union coffers.
2013 statistics reveal that only about 6.7% percent of the private sector workforce in the United States is currently unionized. Thus, the vast majority of employers will not be directly impacted by this law since they do not have a union contract. However, such non-union employers may indirectly benefit by virtue of making Wisconsin a less appealing location for union organizing attempts because of its right to work status.
The new Right to Work law will apply to private sector union contracts at the point the existing contract is renewed, modified or extended after the effective date of the law. At that point, any union security language previously included in the contract would be prohibited from being continued in the successor agreement. From that point forward, individual employees covered under the labor agreement would be able to choose if they want to join the union (and thus pay dues) or pay related fees to the union or pay nothing at all. Such membership or payment could no longer be a required condition of employment.
It should be noted that the Right to Work law does not affect public sector employers. Act 10 already prohibits union security provisions, including dues deductions or “fair share” provisions, in all but police, fire, and transit public sector union contracts.
If you have any questions regarding this article, please contact your Davis & Kuelthau, s.c. attorney or the author, Robert W. Burns at 920.431.2224 / firstname.lastname@example.org.