On January 7, 2017, Kentucky became the 27th right-to-work state. Right-to-work laws make it illegal for unions or employers to compel workers to join a union and pay dues as a condition of employment. Florida was one of the first states with a right-to-work law pursuant to a constitutional provision passed in the 1940s. In Florida, and other right-to-work states, even if a worker is included within a bargaining unit of a unionized workplace and legally represented by the union, the employee still has an individual choice on whether to join the union and pay dues. Unions, of course, do not care for such laws or those states that adopt them.
Right-to-work initiatives have picked up steam in recent years with Indiana becoming the 23rd right-to-work state in 2012, followed by Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and now Kentucky. As a consequence of Republican victories in November 2016, it is anticipated that more states will climb on the right-to-work bandwagon —such laws are pending in Illinois, Missouri, New Hampshire and New Jersey. The driver for the expansion of right-to-work legislation is economics. Although right-to-work laws do not a bar unionization, industry and business typically view right-to-work states as more favorable economically, believing that there is a better opportunity to avoid unionization and the constraints that typically accompany union contracts.
A recent highly controversial issue associated with right-to-work is whether a political subdivision of a state, such as a county or municipality, may enact its own right-to-work law in the absence of state legislation. A federal appellate court, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, just ruled that political subdivisions of a state are legally permitted to enact their own right-to-work laws. On the other hand, a federal trial court in the Northern District of Illinois (part of the federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ) recently ruled the other way. It is likely this issue will eventually be addressed and resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court that will hopefully establish a uniform rule on this issue.