By Jon Hardister, NC House Majority Whip
The ability to work freely without coercion is an integral part of our workforce ethos in North Carolina. We have been a right-to-work state since 1947, and the facts show that this status has benefited our workers and helped grow our economy.
Right-to-work refers to the ability of workers to choose whether or not they want to join and pay dues to a labor union. In other words, workers are not coerced into joining a union by being required to pay dues as a condition of employment. Instead, people have the ability to choose whether or not they wish to join a union when seeking a job in which the employer is affiliated with a union.
In the words of national labor expert F. Vincent Vernuccio, senior policy advisor with Workers for Opportunity, “Right-to-work simply means a union cannot get a worker fired for not paying them.”
There are multiple reasons why right-to-work laws are good policy for all states, including North Carolina.
For starters, right-to-work laws are good for workers. Allowing people the freedom to choose how they want to spend their paycheck expands the ability of workers to chart their own course. If people don’t want to send a portion of their paycheck to a union, they shouldn’t have to. Empowering people to make decisions on union membership allows workers to more-freely determine where they want to work and what is the best for them and their families.
Although it seems paradoxical, right-to-work laws may also enhance labor union services by requiring unions to compete for membership. Not forcing people to join unions actually makes union provide quality services in an effort to encourage more workers to join their ranks.
In fact, Gary Casteel, the former president of the United Auto Workers, was quoted as saying, “This is something I’ve never understood, that people think right-to-work hurts unions. To me, it helps them. You don’t have to belong if you don’t want to. So if I go to an organizing drive, I can tell these workers, ‘If you don’t like this arrangement, you don’t have to belong.’ Versus, ‘If we get 50 percent of you, then all of you have to belong, whether you like to or not.’ I don’t even like the way that sounds. Because [right-to-work is] a voluntary system, if you don’t think the system is earning its keep, then you don’t have to pay.”
Another compelling factor is that right-to-work laws are beneficial to our economy. This is evidenced by the fact that North Carolina consistently ranks high in national business rankings, including being recently ranked “America’s Top State for Business” by CNBC. Companies are flocking to North Carolina, investing billions of dollars and creating thousands of new jobs. This is a testament to our pro-business environment of lower taxes and less regulations, but also to our right-to-work status.
For these reasons, I have chosen to sponsor legislation that will enshrine our right-to-work status in the North Carolina Constitution. H.R. 614, Amend NC Const./Right to Work, would place a referendum on a statewide ballot, allowing voters to decide if they want to provide our right-to-work laws with constitutional protections.
To be clear, this is not an effort to undermine unions or denigrate their purpose. This is, rather, an effort to support workers and preserve their ability to work freely without being pressured into joining an organization.
There are 26 states that have right-to-work laws, with 10 having a constitutional amendment. These laws tend to be very popular with voters, as evidenced by a 2022 referendum in Tennessee in which voters approved a right-to-work amendment with 70 percent of the vote.
It is my hope that we will advance this legislation and submit it to voters for consideration on the ballot in 2024. By doing this we will solidify our status as a pro-worker state that allows people to work freely and choose which organizations they would like to support with their income.
Rep. Jon Hardister, a Republican representing Guilford County, is NC House Majority Whip and a candidate for N.C. Commissioner of Labor.