Leah Fried

After close to three years of negotiations, stickers and leaflets weren’t getting the boss any closer to a fair agreement. The master contract covering 10,000 nursing home workers in Illinois had been expired for two years and extended several times.

Management was insisting on a wage freeze until Illinois overcame its budget impasse and increased Medicaid reimbursements. Long-term workers were languishing at minimum wage, even when their employers had begun offering higher wages to entice new hires.

How can unions operate under these hostile conditions? There are already 27 right-to-work states where we can look for lessons. Unions there take a big hit—but some manage to survive and even thrive, despite the extra challenges. Here’s what it takes.