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Federal Agency to Take Closer Look at Union-Busting ‘Right-to-Work’ Laws

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The federal labor law agency announced it was considering a rule change that would allow unions in so-called "right-to-work" states to process grievance fees for non-members.

The federal agency in charge of enforcing labor laws is considering a rule change that could be the first step in taking on so-called right-to-work laws, designed to weaken labor unions and pushed by Republican legislators nationwide.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced this month it was opening for comment legal briefs to address whether the agency should adopt a rule allowing unions to collect fees from nonmembers related to grievance procedures.

There are 25 states with laws that limit unions’ abilities to collect fees from non-members. Workers in those states with so-called right-to-work laws cannot be forced to join a union, and those who decline don’t have to pay for the cost of union representation despite the fact those non-members benefit from union efforts in negotiating wages and benefits on behalf of all employees.

Right-to-work policies, pushed by right-wing think tanks like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), have become commonplace even in states with strong union traditions, including Wisconsin and Illinois.

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Right-to-work laws have had negative effects on wages, income, access to health care, and other measures of quality of life. Median household income is 11.8 percent less in states with right-to-work policies, compared to states in which “right to work” isn’t written into law. Almost 26 percent of jobs in right-to-work states are in low-wage occupations, compared with 18 percent of jobs in other states, according to the Corporation for Enterprise Development.

The invitation for briefing comes in response to a Florida case last year in which the agency ruled that a “Fair Share Policy” that required non-union member employees to pay a grievance-processing fee violated the state’s right-to-work law.

In response to the Buckeye Florida Corp. decision, the NLRB has asked for comment on two specific questions. First, should the NLRB “reconsider its rule that, in the absence of a valid union-security clause, a union may not charge nonmembers a fee for processing grievances?”

Second, the agency asked if such fees were lawful:

what factors should the Board consider to determine whether the amount of such a fee violates [federal law]? What actions could a union lawfully take to ensure payment?

Briefs must be submitted on or before June 1 to be considered by the NLRB.

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