Saturday, January 21, 2012

Right-to-Work is a Bandaid

Update (2/2/2012): Welcome RedState readers and thanks for the mention LaborUnionReport. LaborUnionReport is my go to newsfeed for everything union. Please check out my other posts on compulsory bargaining. 

There's been a lot of discussion lately about "right-to-work" states. These states, 22 at present, have "right-to-work" statutes that prevent non-union workers at a unionized company from being compelled to join the union. The statutes derive from the Taft-Hartley act, passed in the 40s in an attempt to weaken the pro-union provisions of the National Labor Relations Act. (If only conservatives had had the guts to repeal the NLRA then...)

The NLRA institutes "collective bargaining rights", requiring employers to allow unionization, negotiate with the unions, and to not recognize competing unions. In other words, the NLRA obliterates the rights of employers, primarily the right to walk away from the negotiating table and the right to fire employees. As a result of the NLRA, unions obtained agreements contracts with employers that required the employer to fire employees that refuse to join the union or pay dues. These agreements resulted in "closed shops." All existing employees were union members and new employees had a limited time to join the union.

Facing the awful consequences of the NLRA, especially a sharp rise in strikes after World War II, congress decided to tinker with it. Sound familiar? Kinda like many Republican's want to repeal and replace Obamacare with something less bad. What they should have done is repeal the NLRA, recognizing that "collective bargaining" is coercion. Right-to-work was part of this package of amendments.

I don't think right-to-work is entirely bad, but it misses the point. First of all its terribly misnamed. It refers not to a right to "work," but a right to an open shop. Second, as implemented it represents a abridgment of legitimate rights, added on top of the injustice of collective bargaining. Right-to-work laws prohibit employers and employees from making a certain kind of agreement. On what grounds? The only reason for that prohibition is that employers are already compelled to negotiate with unions and we find the consequences of that intolerable. But if the consequences of collective bargaining are intolerable and the concept of collective bargaining an assault on property rights, it is collective bargaining we should eliminate.

The evil is collective bargaining. If collective bargaining was recognized for the absurdity it is, then no further restrictions on employers or employees or employee organizations would be necessary.


  1. ...and they say Social Security is the third rail.

  2. You would think that attacking collective bargaining would be more difficult than attacking closed shops or pensions or insisting on firing incompetents. But there are a lot of efforts to eliminate collective bargaining, including in california. Perhaps the reason for this is the fact that unions dont seem to have any priorities: they defend collective bargaining, pensions, the latest raises and fired pedophiles with equal vehemence. They are discrediting themselves more quickly than other "rent seeking" factions, who have the wits to shut up in losing issues. And the unions are wearing themselves out fighting one losing cause after another.

    Another point: everyone understands what social security is, and many support it morally. Its altruism that supposedly helps everyone. No one knows what "collective bargaining rights" are. They have only the vaguest idea plus some anecdotes about sweat shops and fires. Once they start to think or read about collective bargaining, there's little intellectual support. Its altruism for the sake of one faction, industrial workers and government employees. Not a very savory picture.

  3. Excellent post. I would disagree with your added comment that everyone understands what social security is. I think that there are many misconceptions about who pays what, who gets what, and where the money goes in the meantime.

    Your notes about collective bargaining are especially welcome though. I'm typing this from Madison, WI, ground-zero for collective bargaining zealotry in recent memory. In many repeated arguments, I cam across numerous people who could not describe the actual terms of collective bargaining law, only vague generalities of what the law was supposed to accomplish. Many people do not think through the distinction between what a law is "supposed" to do, and what actually happens in reality. I support the right of workers to organize and I support unions standing up for themselves and their members, but I do not support giving them the ability to dictate the terms of their employment or force other employees to join their ranks. Similarly, arguing against right-to-work, employers should be able to choose whether to have a closed-shop or not. If they want a fully-unionized shop, then they can make agreements with a union to that end. If they want an open shop, then unions shouldn't be able to stop them. There is no need for the government to be involved at all.

  4. Wonderful to hear from you Nate. I've been following the happenings in WI and love what you all are doing. You're giving the leftists a big metaphorical slap in the face. I'm encouraged as well by the latest polls on the recall. Cheers!