In February, Missouri voted to become the 28th right-to-work state, and lawmakers introduced a bill called the National Right-to-Work Act. With New Hampshire also voting on its right-to-work status later this month, you may wonder if labor unions may be in peril in the United States. If a federal right-to-work bill becomes law, how will it affect you and your colleagues in the healthcare industry?
Support for Right-to-Work Laws
While campaigning, President Trump expressed his support for right-to-work laws, and despite some union support, he has given no indication that he’s changed his position. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have also discussed right-to-work favorably, and Republican lawmakers, in general, seem to support this type of legislation. The National Right-to-Work Act specifically amends the Railway Labor Act and National Labor Relations Act so workers don’t have to pay union dues as part of their employment. With Republican majorities in both legislative chambers, it’s likely a right-to-work bill could become federal law.
Meanwhile, you may have noticed that six states in the past five years have adopted right-to-work laws. Over half of the population currently lives in a right-to-work state, so you might already live in a state that supports this legislation.
Right-to-Work in the Healthcare Industry
We can draw reasonable conclusions about how a federal law may affect the healthcare industry by examining how right-to-work currently affects individual states. You can also examine what conditions improve in right-to-work states, and how they currently affect your healthcare hiring process.
Advocates of right-to-work legislation claim that business is better in states that don’t require members to pay union dues. Yet their examples – of manufacturing companies choosing to locate their plants in right-to-work states – don’t truly affect the healthcare industry, where growth is largely determined by the amount of people who need services in your area. Also, even if a federal law was passed, there would be no right-to-work advantage to locating your facility in a different state.
Supporters also say that unemployment numbers are lower in right-to-work states. However, healthcare staffing is already challenging in most areas, so it’s doubtful that your staff vacancy rates would change under federal legislation.
Right-to-work laws might affect compensation in healthcare, however. Businesses in right-to-work states pay lower wages and fewer benefits to their employees, so it’s possible the market rate for healthcare professionals in your area could fall. However, salaries and benefits are also determined by demand for a specific skill set, so you may not see an appreciable difference at all.
It’s important to keep in mind that right-to-work laws don’t prohibit unions, they just prohibit forcing unions to make workers pay dues as a condition of employment. Right-to-work laws are tied to a decline in union membership, but not all unions experience a significant decline in membership when laws change. Some unions report less than a 5 percent drop in union membership after their state passes right-to-work legislation. Also, some of the strongest unions are in right-to-work states.
In fact, despite a national decline of union membership and an increase in right-to-work states, healthcare unions have maintained a steady 7.3 percent share of the healthcare and social assistance workforce. Healthcare practitioner and technical occupation positions added 82,000 union members in 2015, but healthcare support occupations registered a loss of 26,000 union members. Workers in your industry are also likely to view unions as a way to get their workplace concerns addressed, rather than primarily viewing unions as wage negotiators.
Right-to-work laws clearly affect the overall economy of a state, but they might not affect the healthcare industry at an appreciable level. While you could seem a drop in union membership at your local facilities, keep in mind that many unions are finding ways to thrive in the competitive healthcare industry.