In 1947, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, which gave states the right to restrict the power of unions within their states. Since then, many states have passed right to work laws. Iowa is currently a “right to work state.” In these states, an employee is not required to join a union nor pay union dues, even when his or her workplace is unionized. There is a lot of controversy surrounding right to work laws because many employees feel these laws are designed to undermine the power of unions and thus the power of employees to collectively negotiate higher pay and better working conditions. While these laws may not benefit employees overall, they generally do protect employees from certain conduct, as set out below.
Right to work laws restrict a company and union from negotiating a contract that requires all employees to join the union and pay dues. This means that an employer cannot discriminate in hiring based on union membership or union dues paid or unpaid. This also means that they cannot prohibit an employee from joining a union. Furthermore, an employer cannot deduct union dues from an employee’s wages against that employee’s will.
The federal Railway Labor Act supersedes state right to work legislation. Railway and airline employees may be required to pay union dues, depending on the bargaining agreements of their employer and the respective union. While railway and airline employees may have to pay union dues, they may not be compelled to participate in meetings or other union events.
Right to Work States
To date, about half the states and territories of the United States, including Iowa, have right to work laws on the books, through legislation or constitutional provision. However, as debates about right to work laws emerge and new laws are passed, these can be influx. If you feel that an employer has been in violation of a right to work law, you should research your own state’s current laws or contact a local employment lawyer.
Background in Iowa
The current law protects an employee’s right to join a union as well as refusal to join and makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee for being a member of a union or alternatively refusing to join a union. It makes any contracts that would restrict employment of those who refuse to join a union unlawful. It also states that union dues cannot be a prerequisite of employment. Finally, it makes deducting union dues from wages, without written consent of the employee, unlawful.
The name “right to work” can be misleading. These laws do not ensure employment for anyone who wants to work. They also do not prohibit employment termination for any particular reason. Rather, they narrowly and specifically protect an employee from being compelled to participate, or not, in a union as a condition of employment.