By: Mark A. Wagner, Employment and Litigation Attorney
February 28th, 2019
Prince Yeates employment lawyers Mark Wagner and John Chindlund recently completed a broad summary of Utah employment law for inclusion in an upcoming compendium of state labor and employment laws for Primerus, an exclusive international society of nearly 200 independent peer-reviewed law firms in more than 40 countries. Although the summary was generally intended to educate in-house counsel and other Primerus member law firms, we thought we would share it with you in a series of weekly FAQs over the next several months. Our fifth installment is below.
Question of the Week: Does Utah have a right-to-work law or other labor / management laws?
Utah has a right-to-work law and two other labor / management relations laws. These statutes are summarized generally below.
But first . . .
Before summarizing Utah’s labor laws, it might be helpful to provide some basic context.  To lawyers, there is a distinction between “labor” and “employment” law. Generally speaking, labor law refers to the set of laws that establish the right of employees to engage in collective bargaining (i.e., to unionize) and the rules by which employees, unions, and management must play. Employment law, in contrast, is a broader term that encompasses the legal relationships between employers and employees in areas that fall outside the framework of collective bargaining and union-management relations.
Labor law is largely governed by a handful of federal laws, the most prominent of which is the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). However, section 14(b) of the NLRA (codified at 29 U.S.C. § 164(b)) affirms the right of states to enact laws that prohibit agreements that require employees to be members of a union or to pay union dues as a condition of employment. As of the date of this post, 27 states—including Utah—have enacted such laws. In addition, Utah has also enacted two other labor laws.
Without further ado, . . .
- Utah Right to Work Law, Utah Code § 34-34-1 et seq. The Utah Right to Work Law (URWL) declares that it is the public policy of Utah “that the right of persons to work . . . shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in any labor union, labor organization or any other type of association . . . .” id. § 34-34-2. Accordingly, the URWL makes the following conduct illegal:
- any conduct, including an agreement, understanding, or practice, whether express or implied, that violates this policy, id. § 34-34-4;
- any agreement, understanding, or practice designed to violate the URWL, id. § 34-34-5;
- any conduct forcing someone to violate the URWL, id. § 34-34-6;
- any act to force a person to join or refrain from joining a union, id. § 34-34-7;
- any requirement of an employer that a person become or remain a union member as a condition of employment, id. § 34-34-8;
- any requirement of an employer that a person refrain from or cease being a union member as a condition of employment, id. § 34-34-9; and
- any requirement of an employer that a person pay any dues, fees, or other charges of any kind to a labor union as a condition of employment. Id. § 34-34-10.
The URWL creates a private civil right of action on behalf of a person or organization injured by a violation (or threatened violation) of the statute to obtain an injunction against the violation as well as any damages caused by the violation (or threatened violation). Id. §§ 34-34-11, 34-34-12, 34-34-13. In addition, the URWL makes each violation (and each day a violation continues) a separate class B misdemeanor. Id. § 34-34-17.
- Employment Relations and Collective Bargaining, Utah Code § 34-20-1, et seq. This statute applies to most private employers, including persons acting in the interest of an employer, but excludes the United States, states and political subdivisions, persons subject to Railway Labor Act, labor organizations when they are not acting as employers, corporations or associations that operate nonprofit hospitals, and officers or agents of labor organizations. Id. § 34-20-2(5).
The statute declares, in part, that, “[i]t is the policy of the state, in order to preserve and promote the interests of the public, the employee, and the employer alike, to establish standards of fair conduct in employment relations and to provide a convenient, expeditious and impartial tribunal by which these interests may have their respective rights and obligations adjudicated.” Id. § 34-20-1(4). Among other things, the statute creates a state Labor Relations Board, id. §§ 34-20-4, 34-20-5; empowers the Board to make regulations, id. § 34-20-6; establishes rights of employees to engage in, or refrain from, self-organization, forming, joining, or assisting labor organizations, collective bargaining, and concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, id. § 34-20-7; defines and prohibits “unfair labor practices,” id. § 34-20-8; establishes procedures for collective bargaining, id. § 34-20-9; and provides for administrative adjudication before the Board of charges of unfair labor practices and for judicial review and enforcement of orders issued by the Board, id. § 34-20-10; as well as hearings and investigations by the Board. Id. § 34-20-11. The statute further provides that anyone who willfully resists, prevents, impedes, or interferes with the Board’s performance of its duties shall be punished by a fine of up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment for up to one year. Id. § 34-20-12.
- Labor Disputes, Utah Code § 34-19-1 et seq. This statute provides a right to organize labor unions, id. § 34-19-1(1), and includes anti-injunction provisions that apply when a person or association is found to be participating or interested in a labor dispute. Id. §§ 34-19-2, 34-19-4 through 34-19-10. The statute further defines “labor dispute,” the circumstances under which a person will be considered to have participated or been interested in a labor dispute, and under which a case will be held to involve or grow out of a labor dispute. Id. § 34-19-11. It also prohibits the deputizing of employees in connection with a strike or lockout, id. § 34-19-12, and declares yellow-dog contracts (agreements to join, not join, or quit a labor union) against public policy. Id. § 34-19-13.
 For example, in my experience, people often confuse the terms “at-will employment” and “right to work.” As discussed in a previous post, at-will employment refers to a general legal presumption that the employment relationship may be terminated by either the employer or the employee at any time for any reason or no reason at all, unless the parties have an agreement to the contrary or the reason does violates either a statute or Utah public policy. In contrast, as discussed above, right to work refers to a statutory right, granted at the state level, to employees to be employed without being having to be members of a union or having to pay union dues.
Check back next week for more Utah Employment Law FAQs.
Mark A. Wagner concentrates his practice in employment law, homeowners association law, and health care law, and serves as Chair of the firm’s Employment and Labor Practice Group.