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Protecting North Carolina’s Right-to-Work Status

| Labor & Workplace

There is a good chance you heard or read about last week’s agreement between Daimler and the United Auto Workers, perhaps because of Daimler’s significant footprint in North Carolina, but potentially because of the thunderous applause heaped upon the announcement of the deal by elected officials. The agreement averted a strike that appeared set to begin last Friday night at midnight and expands a streak of recent wins for unions in the southern part of the United States.

The results of this agreement were announced from Charlotte, and Daimler has thousands of employees in our state. When reflecting on this, you might have thought to yourself, “but I thought North Carolina was a ‘right-to-work’ state.” We thought it was fitting to both offer a brief explanation of what that term means and to provide some history on how North Carolina became a “right-to-work” state.

For illumination of the meaning of the term, let’s go straight to the source. Article 10 of Chapter 95 of the North Carolina General Statutes states plainly that it is “the public policy of North Carolina that the right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in any labor union or labor organization or association.” In other words, membership in a union cannot lawfully be a prerequisite to employment in this state, even if an employer has agreed to a contract with a union, along the lines of what Daimler and the UAW announced last week.

G.S. § 95‑80 puts it this way: “Membership in labor organization as condition of employment prohibited. No person shall be required by an employer to become or remain a member of any labor union or labor organization as a condition of employment or continuation of employment by such employer.” As such, North Carolinians have the “right to work” at any employer in the state, even if they are not a member of a union that is active at that employer’s site.

If you look closely at the history of North Carolina’s right-to-work statute, you will see that it was adopted in 1947. This date corresponds with the passage of several amendments to the National Labor Relations Act at the federal level in a piece of legislation commonly referred to as the Taft-Harley Act. Of most relevance here, Taft-Harley affirmed that states have the right to adopt state right-to-work laws. Notably, enacting the Taft-Harley legislation required that Congress – in a strong bipartisan vote – override President Harry Truman’s veto. North Carolina’s right to work statute was the seventh of its kind adopted across the United States. It technically pre-dated Taft-Harley, which even further demonstrates our strong legacy as a leader in the nationwide movement to create statewide right-to-work havens.

With this increased focus by organized labor, it has become more important now than ever for the aligned business community to recognize the importance of right to work for the health of our competitive business climate. As outlined in North Carolina Vision 2030, our state’s right-to-work status has played a key role in its history as a regional economic leader. Our state is always a top contender in competitiveness rankings, most recently North Carolina was named America’s 2022 and 2023 Top State for Business by CNBC. These recognitions are a validation of our collaboration with policymakers on behalf of North Carolina’s job creators. In order to be as competitive as possible in attracting new companies and enhancing the economic prospects of all those that call our state home, the NC Chamber will always fight to protect North Carolina’s status as a right-to-work state.