Following Michigan’s union push, North Carolina takes different approach
On Wednesday, Republican legislative leaders filed a bill that would ensure North Carolinians are not coerced into joining labor unions. A “right-to-work” state law is already in place, but this bill would allow voters to decide whether to adopt it into the North Carolina Constitution. North Carolina has been a “right-to-work” state, meaning workers cannot be coerced to join unions, since 1947.
Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, is the lead sponsor of H.B. 614 and is joined by Reps. Kyle Hall, R-Stokes, Destin Hall, R-Caldwell, and Larry Potts, R-Davidson.
Last month, Democratic legislators in Michigan repealed the state’s right-to-work law, opening the door for significant union power. It is the first state to do so in 58 years, and the repeal will take effect starting March 30, 2024.
Following Michigan’s repeal of its right-to-work law, the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce took out a full-page advertisement in one of Michigan’s major newspapers, the Lansing State Journal.
Bill sponsors explained their rationale behind right-to-work laws in a press release.
“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,” they said. “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.”
Placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot, as this bill would do, requires three-fifths of both chambers of the General Assembly to vote in favor of proposing the measure to North Carolinians.
There are 26 states that currently have right-to-work laws, 10 of which have it in their constitution. Tennessee passed a right-to-work constitutional amendment in 2022. Tennesseeans voted heavily in favor, 70% in favor to 30% against.
Hardister said that North Carolina’s right-to-work laws have a positive impact on North Carolina’s economy.
“The growth that we have seen in the private sector is a direct result of what we have done to keep taxes low, invest in education, and minimize regulations,” Hardister said. “Our right-to-work laws have played a role in this success by making our State more attractive for workforce development. This has resulted in more job opportunities and enhanced upward mobility for workers in our State.”
If passed, voters will see the following amendment on their ballot:
“Constitutional amendment to provide that the right to live includes the right to work, and therefore the right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership, or payment or nonpayment, in any labor organization.”
Voters will have the option to choose either “For” or “Against.”
“This is not an anti-union bill,” Hardister said. “This is an effort to support workers and preserve our status as a right-to-work state.”
Vice President Kamala Harris called for more unionization in North Carolina last year when she visited Durham Technical Community College. Governor Roy Cooper joined her.
“States with right-to-work laws enjoy lower unemployment rates, higher job growth, and higher wage and income growth compared with forced union states,” wrote Vincent Vernuccio in a new report from the John Locke Foundation. “Right-to-work laws are decidedly pro-worker.”
Union membership was at its highest in the 1940s and 1950s but has been steadily declining ever since. Today, around 6% of workers are members of a private-sector union. North Carolina has the second-lowest union membership in the nation at 2.6% of workers; only South Carolina has a lower percentage of union workers. The state’s teacher union, the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), has suffered dramatic losses of members and revenue as well in recent years, now having fewer than 20% of N.C. teachers as members.
NCAE membership has continually declined since 2012.
A right-to-work constitutional amendment was filed in 2021 by Sen. Carl Ford, R-Rowan, and Sen. Jim Burgin, R-Harnett, but did not appear to gain support from Senate leadership as it remained in the Senate Rules Committee until that session adjourned.