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New Right to Work Amendment


On this date in 1972, a battle was brewing in Bismarck. The state constitution contained a Right to Work section that had been adopted in 1947. But some members of the legislature wanted to take that a step further. 53 members of the state constitutional delegation approved a proposal from delegate Arden Burbidge of Park River. The proposed Right to Work section was titled “Non-Discrimination in Licensing and Employment.” It was sent to a legislative committee agreed to recommend the change.

The new section was very similar to the old one. It prohibited discrimination against an employee for reasons of race, color, sex, or creed. But it also prohibited discrimination for reasons of membership in a trade association, labor organization, or professional group. This set the stage for a fight between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats were against the proposal while Republicans favored it. The Right to Work clause was originally intended to protect employees from discrimination. Democrats felt it was more often used to oppose the activities of labor unions.

Advocates for changing the Right to Work clause said it would give corporations more flexibility and attract businesses to the state. Since workers would not be required to join a union, it also meant that an employees could not be required to pay union dues. Opponents said the proposed clause would weaken unions, thereby denying workers needed protections. Another argument against the clause was that workers who didn’t pay union dues would be “freeloaders,” since they would benefit from the union without paying for it.

Delegate Tom Brakke felt the constitution should contain a Right to Work section at all. He said it was a matter of a group wanting to control organized labor. Brakke proposed an alternate clause that combined a new Right to Work section with a constitutional ban on corporation farming. Supporters of the Right to Work clause thought that Brakke’s proposal was frivolous, and he was merely trying to embarrass them.

In the end, Brakke’s proposal died, but Arden Burbidge’s change made it through, making North Dakota one of 24 states with a “Right to Work” law that says employees cannot be required to join a union or pay union dues.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Fargo Forum. “New Right-to-Work Section Proposed. 10 January, 1972.

Inforum. “ND one of 24 states with right-to-work law as debate heats up in Wisconsin.” 3 March, 2015. "http://www.inforum.com/news/3693723-nd-one-24-states-right-work-law-debate-heats-wisconsin" http://www.inforum.com/news/3693723-nd-one-24-states-right-work-law-debate-heats-wisconsin Accessed 29 November, 2016.

Find Law. “North Dakota Right to Work Laws.” "http://statelaws.findlaw.com/north-dakota-law/north-dakota-right-to-work-laws.html" http://statelaws.findlaw.com/north-dakota-law/north-dakota-right-to-work-laws.html Accessed 19 November, 2016.

North Dakota Legislature. “Article I: Declaration of Rights.” "http://www.legis.nd.gov/constit/a01.pdf" http://www.legis.nd.gov/constit/a01.pdf Accessed 29 November, 2016.