Previous AP Stylebook definition of "right-to-work"

At urging of News Media Guild, AP Stylebook definition of ‘right-to-work’ changes

By Martha Waggoner, TNG international chair

March 26, 2019 – The Associated Press has changed its Stylebook entry on “right-to-work” laws after a member of the News Media Guild executive board inquired about the previous definition.

In July, NMG board member Mike Warren asked AP’s Stylebook mavens about the definition of right to work, which read:

Right-to-work

(adj.) A right-to-work law prohibits a company and a union from signing a contract that would require the affected workers to be union members.

Warren proposed this wording:

“Right-to work”

(adj.) A “right-to-work” law prohibits a company and a union from signing a contract that would require workers to pay dues or fees to the union that represents them. Use only in direct quotes or with quote marks for the purpose of explaining the term.

Mike Warren of News Media Guild
Mike Warren, a vice president with News Media Guild, recommended a change to The Associated Press Stylebook definition of “right-to-work.”

“’Right-to-work’ is a loaded and inaccurate phrase,” Warren wrote. “ … By endorsing the use of right-to-work without quote marks, The AP is adopting a public relations device created in opposition to the labor movement.”

Warren also asked the Stylebook committee to explain the change publicly, as it has done with entries on other non-neutral terms such as those involving abortion, “Dreamers” and the “alt-right.”

While the change hasn’t been announced, Stylebook editors updated the “right-to-work” entry on Jan. 24 to read:

(adj.) A “right-to-work” law prohibits agency shops, where companies require workers who choose not to join union to pay union fees. Use only in direct quotes or with quotes marks for the purpose of explaining the term.

But then the entry went on to read: “The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that agency shops are illegal in the public sector; closed or union shops, in which workers must be members of unions as a condition of employment, have been outlawed in all U.S. workplaces since the 1940s. Laws in other nations vary.”

However, a union shop is legal in the private sector. It requires a member to meet a financial obligation to the union as a condition of employment, within a certain number of days. If the employee joins the union, s/he pays dues. If the employee does not join, s/he still has a financial obligation equal to the dues.  That is referred to as an agency fee.

Even then, the employee can object to paying that portion of the agency fee that’s used for purposes other than representation.

Warren went back to the Stylebook editors for further refinement of the definition. With a deadline for publication approaching, everyone agreed on March 26 on this definition:

“A ‘right-to-work’ law prohibits a company and a union from signing a contract that would require workers to pay dues or fees to the union that represents them. Use only in direct quotes or with quote marks for the purpose of explaining the term. Avoid using this non-neutral phrase generically and without definition since employees covered by union contracts can freely work with or without such laws.”

Warren was pleased with the process of getting the definition changed.

“It’s gratifying to see management respond respectfully to suggestions from the union even when it involves long-published Stylebook entries,” Warren said.