Report: Nationwide Grading of Government Union Laws

At the federal level, the two primary labor and employment statutes—National Labor Relations Act and Fair Labor Standards Act, have remained relatively untouched for decades. However, over the past several years, a number of states have taken action to reform labor and employment law.  

Notably, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and West Virginia have become right to work states, which means workers may no longer be forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment. As I noted after the election, more change is on the horizon related to worker freedom. Several states—Missouri, Kentucky and New Hampshire—elected a number of pro-worker choice candidates, which greatly increases the likelihood of right-to-work laws becoming enacted in the near future.

These potential worker freedom reforms may very well boost these states’ rankings in the new Commonwealth Foundation, a Pennsylvania free-market think tank, report entitled “Transforming Labor: A Comprehensive, Nationwide Comparison and Grading of Public Sector Labor Laws.”

The folks over at the Commonwealth Foundation did yeoman’s work combing through all 50 states’ public-sector labor laws and assigned grades as to how much freedom is granted to workers and impact on state budgets. As the study states, the “report outlines and examines public sector labor law across 11 measures that fall broadly into two categories: impact on taxpayers and impact on government workers”:

Public Sector Labor Laws Measures that impact taxpayers and government budgets


Measures that impact individual workers’ rights


Legality of collective bargaining

Union certification (installing, affirming, or removing a union)

Scope of collective bargaining

Opt out windows

Union release time

Exclusive representation/agency fees

Legality of worker strikes

Paycheck protection

Binding arbitration

Right to work

Union contract negotiation transparency


Seven states received an A+ grade, including Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. These states prohibit collective bargaining for most or all government employees.

Only two states received a F grade—California and Maryland with little hope of that changing anytime soon. Check out the interactive map to compare states, here.   

Aside from grading states, the report highlights positive impact from free-market government sector union reform. A primary example of fiscal savings deriving from these kinds of legislation is from Wisconsin’s sweeping government union labor law reform passed in 2011. The legislation curtailed government union collective bargaining privileges and required government employees to contribute more toward healthcare and pension benefits. The report cites research from the MacIver Institute on the massive savings from the reforms, “state retirement savings alone amounted to $3.36 billion from 2011 to 2016, and Milwaukee Public Schools alone saved $1.3 billion in long-term pension liabilities.”

It is important to note, as compiled by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, elected officials are overwhelmingly reelected when they enact government union reforms that favor taxpayers and worker freedom. Hopefully, more states in the future will adopt labor policy that promotes a public purpose rather than the special interests of government unions.