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Employment law

right to work

Employers and employees often mistakenly associate “right-to-work laws” or “right-to-work states” with the enforceability of noncompete agreements. These terms do not refer to noncompete agreements—they refer to laws governing whether labor unions can require employees to join the union and pay dues as a condition of working for an employer whose employees are represented by a labor union.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows employers and unions to enter into union-security agreements, which require all employees in a bargaining unit to become union members and begin paying union dues and fees within 30 days of being hired. The amount of dues collected from employees represented by unions is subject to federal and state laws and court rulings.

Even under a security agreement, employees who object to full union membership may continue as core members and pay only that share of dues used directly for representation, such as collective bargaining and contract administration. Known as objectors, they are no longer full members but are still protected by the union contract. Unions are obligated to tell all covered employees about this option, which was created by a United States Supreme Court ruling and is known as the Beck right.

An employee may object to union membership on religious grounds, but in that case, the employee must pay an amount equal to dues to a nonreligious charitable organization.

Twenty-seven states have banned union-security agreements by passing so-called “right to work” laws. In these states, it is up to each employee at a workplace to decide whether to join the union and pay dues, even though all workers are protected by the collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the union.

In Texas, 'right-to-work' laws are often confused with noncompete agreement regulations, but they actually pertain to union membership and dues. Texas is a 'right-to-work' state, meaning that employees cannot be required to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment, even if their workplace is unionized. This is in accordance with the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which allows for union-security agreements, but is overridden by state 'right-to-work' laws. Employees in Texas may choose to join a union and pay dues, but cannot be compelled to do so. Those who opt out of full union membership can still be required to pay a portion of dues for representation purposes, known as the Beck right. Additionally, employees with religious objections to joining a union can instead pay an equivalent amount to a nonreligious charity. It's important to note that noncompete agreements, which restrict employees from working with competitors after leaving a company, are a separate legal matter and are not related to 'right-to-work' laws.

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