Under federal law, unions must represent all workers when engaged in collective bargaining or providing services, such as legal representation following unfair dismissal. A majority of states allow unionized workplaces to collect dues from all new employees as a condition of employment, but this majority may become an even split. Missouri legislators have been recently considering right-to-work legislation that would prohibit mandatory collection of dues.

Supporters of the bill put forth two central arguments. They argued that the choice of whether to, in the form of union dues, buy a particular service or not falls under the rubric of employee rights. At least one lawmaker suggested that several businesses have chosen not to locate in Missouri due to lack of right-to-work legislation.

Opponents countered both arguments. Employees, they said, already have the choice to not join the union. They must pay dues, because federal law requires the union provide them services. Democratic Representative Stephen Webber went on record citing the impossibility of narrowing down the why a company would choose to not locate in Missouri down to a single rationale. Governor Jay Nixon opposed the legislation, and Republican legislators hoped to get around this by making the final vote a ballot issue.

Unions provide an array of services for employees, including arbitration of grievances, mediation, counseling and legal representation during employment disputes. Mandatory dues are their primary funding mechanism for provision of these services. If this is cut, some employees may become free riders, and the unions may eventually lose the funding necessary to provide services. This may result in employees losing benefits won under collective bargaining. In the midst of an uncertain legislative climate, employees who feel their rights may be violated would to well to consult an experienced employment law attorney.

Source: CBS St. Louis, “Missouri House Committee Debates ‘Right to Work’ Bill,” Feb. 7, 2013