Friday, August 27, 2004
Texas right-to-work laws protect both employees and employers
Houston Business Journal - by Hurlie Collier Special to Houston Business Journal
Texas is one of only 22 states with "right-to-work" provisions, but what exactly does that mean to employers and employees?
Right-to-work laws are state statutes that ban the practice of requiring union membership or financial support to a union as a condition of employment, and provide employees with individual bargaining rights.
These laws establish the legal right of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to join or financially support a union.
Protected by federal act
States began adopting right-to-work laws in 1940, and the right to enact a right-to-work law was assured in 1947 by the Federal Labor-Management Relations Act (also called the Taft-Hartley Act).
Understandably, this provision angers labor union officials who contend that the security and solidarity of organized unions is jeopardized by allowing individual workers to opt out of any union membership or financial requirements.
On the other hand, right-to-work proponents argue that these laws uphold the right of Americans to work without being forced to pay union membership dues or agency fees in order to continue working.
In 1993, Texas enacted the current version of the Texas Right-to-Work Act, which includes the following provisions:
* Right to bargain. A person's inherent right-to-work and to bargain freely with the person's employer, individually or collectively, for the terms of the person's employment may not be denied or infringed by law or by any organization.
* Contract for withholding union dues from employee's compensation is void without employee's consent. A contract that permits or requires the retention of part of an employee's compensation to pay dues or assessments on the employee's part to a labor union is void unless the employee delivers to the employer the employee's written consent to the retention of those sums.
* Denial of employment based on labor union membership is prohibited. A person may not be denied employment based on membership or non-membership in a labor union.
* Contract requiring or prohibiting labor union membership is void. A contract is void if it requires that, to work for an employer, employees or applicants for employment must be or may not be members of a labor union or must remain or may not remain members of a labor union.
* Fee for privilege to work is prohibited. A labor union, a labor organizer or an officer, member, agent or representative of a labor union, may not collect, receive or demand, directly or indirectly, a fee as a work permit or as a condition for the privilege to work from a person who is not a member of the union; however, this does not prevent the collection of an initiation fee.
Simply stated, under the Texas Right-to-Work Act, it is unlawful for any company or organization in Texas to require an employee to join a union or pay union dues in order to be employed or to maintain his employment. It is also unlawful in Texas for any employer to refuse to hire or maintain the employment of an employee because the employee desires to join a union.
Texas courts have found that the Texas Right-to-Work Act is intended to protect employees in the exercise of their right of free choice of joining or not joining a union. Any attempt by a company or organization to infringe on this right may result in a civil lawsuit brought by the state on behalf of the aggrieved employee.
While right-to-work laws are written in language that protects workers' rights, they were originally enacted by states primarily to attract and promote economic growth.
Opponents of these laws often call them the "right-to-work-for-less" laws. However, according to a 2002 study on The Effect of Right-to-Work Laws on Economic Development, "a quarter century of superior economic growth in the right-to-work states adds to the increasing evidence that economic growth is the best way to raise the incomes of all Americans."
For example, the study shows that Michigan's high unit labor costs have increasingly discouraged fresh capital from investing in the state. The report's conclusion is that right-to-work laws increase state economic development and the overall prosperity of state residents.
Hurlie Collier is a partner in the Houston office of Baker & Hostetler LLP (www.bakerlaw.com