October 20, 2019

But aren’t right-to-work laws also unjust?

TAMPA, December 13, 2012 ― As expected, the reaction to Monday’s column about Michigan’s right-to-work legislation inspired spirited discussion.

Weeding out both praise and invective that were unresponsive to my argument, there was a dissent that had merit. It was the libertarian argument that right-to-work laws also violate the rights of employers and employees to make a voluntary contract. An employer should be free to require membership in the union and/or payment of dues as a condition of employment.

Like most libertarians, I agree with that argument in principle, but one cannot evaluate right-to-work laws in a vacuum.

Right-to-work laws and the Taft-Hartley Act from which they proceed are wholly a reaction to the Wagner Act. The proponents of Taft-Hartley first tried to get the Wagner Act repealed. When the Supreme Court ruled Wagner constitutional, conservatives passed Taft-Hartley. If the Wagner Act were not already law, Taft-Hartley would be both unnecessary and unjust.

However, in the context of the Wagner act, neither is necessarily true. A brief allegory will illustrate.

Employer Smith sits down at the bargaining table with Union Jones. The two discuss potential terms of an employment contract, but are unable to reach an agreement. Jones wants more than Smith is willing or able to pay. Smith gets up to walk away.

Just then, Luca Brasi walks up and makes Smith “an offer he can’t refuse.” Brasi puts a gun to Smith’s head and invites him to sit back down, assuring him that at the end of the meeting, either his brains or his signature will be on a collective bargaining agreement.

Brasi is the Wagner Act.

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Michigan unions say no right to work

TAMPA, December 10, 2012 – Lansing, Michigan is bracing for an onslaught of protestors following Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s indication that he would sign “Right to Work” legislation currently making its way through the state legislature. President Obama and Harry Reid have both joined Michigan Democrats in denouncing the bill.

As usual, both liberals and conservatives are already demonstrating their skewed perception of reality in weighing in on this debate. President Obama told workers at an engine plant outside Detroit that “what we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages,” as if the law would do any such thing.

However, Harry Reid surpassed all in obtuseness when he called the legislation a “blatant attempt by Michigan Republicans to assault the collective bargaining process and undermine the standard of living it has helped foster.”

Perhaps the senator should ask the residents of Detroit, an entire city laid waste by New Deal union legislation, how they are enjoying the standard of living it has produced.

Libertarians haven’t been able to say this in quite a while, but the conservatives are mostly right on this one, although perhaps for the wrong reasons.

The only troubling sentiment coming from grassroots conservatives is the animosity towards labor unions themselves. Many seem to believe that the mere existence of labor unions causes economic distortions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Labor unions themselves are not the problem.

Like virtually all human misery, labor market distortions are caused by the government. Specifically in this case, they are rooted in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (a.k.a. the Wagner Act).

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