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Some States Strengthened, Others Limited Collective Bargaining in 2023

Union dues and fees, right-to-work laws and unemployment insurance eligibility were hot topics for lawmakers in last year’s sessions.

By Zaakary Barnes  |  January 31, 2024

Throughout 2023, labor unions and collective bargaining reached—and maintained—fervent public and legislative interest. Some of the hottest topics in this policy arena include union dues and fees, right-to-work laws and unemployment insurance eligibility.

Union dues and payroll deductions continue to be contentious in the post-Janus v. AFSCME policy landscape. In that 2018 decision, the Supreme Court ruled the collection of union dues from nonconsenting public employees was unconstitutional. In 2023, eight states enacted prohibitions or protections for some deductions.

Maryland and Delaware allowed union dues to be deducted from taxes in some cases. Hawaii and Oregon now allow unions to charge covered, nonmember employees for costs of representation unrelated to negotiating contracts.

However, Arkansas, Florida and Kentucky all passed restrictions on dues deductions.

In Arkansas, public employers were expressly prohibited from deducting dues, fees or contributions to labor organizations or political funds. Florida enacted similar prohibitions but made exceptions for unions representing law enforcement and public safety personnel. And Kentucky prohibited deductions for public employees as well. Private employees may have dues deducted, provided the union seeks and maintains written authorization from the employee.

Michigan enacted a suite of bills (H 4004, H 4230 and S 34) allowing “fair share” agreements, requiring employees to give written consent for certain payroll deductions, and allowing public employers to begin making those deductions.

Senate Bill 34 is noteworthy for another reason: It repealed Michigan’s existing right-to-work law. In 2012, the state enacted legislation prohibiting unions from negotiating contracts that compelled employees to join the union as a condition of employment. However, during the 2023 session, that provision was repealed, making the state the first to reverse such a statute in several decades.

New Jersey allowed people who cannot work due a labor dispute to seek unemployment benefits. The bill also lets people who are receiving unemployment benefits turn down a job offer without losing their eligibility if the position is vacant due to an ongoing strike.

Maine made the use of job placement services provided by a union hiring hall a work search activity, allowing people claiming unemployment benefits to show they are looking for work.

It remains to be seen whether these changes from 2023 are stand-alone reforms or the beginnings of new trends in labor policy. As lawmakers introduce and pass more legislation related to these topics, NCSL will continue to track them in the Unions and Collective Bargaining Legislation Database.

Zaakary Barnes is a senior policy specialist in NCSL’s Employment, Labor and Retirement Program.

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