Right to Work

First of all, let me tell you that I love labor unions. I love the idea behind them, I love everything they have achieved for all of us, love them, want to kiss them, and put them under my pillow at night. I was a union organizer for a while, too, so believe me when I tell you that I have very warm and fuzzy feelings towards labor unions.

But I think that the so-called “Right to Work” legislation should absolutely be passed everywhere. People should have the right to choose whether they want to be in a union. If we respect workers and consider them to be reasonable, intelligent, adult people, we have to respect their right to have a job without joining a union.

There is a large group of people in this country that wants to deprive me of my right to choose what’s best for my body claiming a concern for my well-being. These folks insist that women are persuaded and talked into terminating pregnancies by evil doctors as if women were brainless machines with no capacity to make rational decisions.

I know, of course, that employers go to great lengths to prevent workers from joining a union. There is a high probability that I have a much better practical knowledge of this than you do. However, this is not a valid excuse to force the people who don’t want to be unionized into a union against their will. The good of many can never be used to excuse the removal of the right of a few to make their own decisions. Otherwise, we have no rational argument to oppose to anti-abortion bans, anti-blasphemy laws, censorship, forced medication, etc.

We cannot support freedom of choice only when it’s convenient to do so.

31 thoughts on “Right to Work”

  1. This is an outstanding column. It is honest and fair in the true sense of the word. and it shows that you are a freedom lover. As you may know Michigan unions organized violence this week as the right to work legislation was passed. Not only does this evidence a willingness to coerce. It also shows that the union leaders do not think they can win the debate without exerting force.


  2. Unfortunately “right to work” generally means “right to fire..” Right to work states give employers the ability to fire at will without explanation and they neuter the ability of unions to fight employee abuse. There is not one state in the country that forces all employees to be unionized. The term “right to work” is nothing more than right wing rhetoric (in my opinion) and it obfuscates the real terms of the debate.


    1. Surely, the right to hire should imply the right to fire, just like the right to marry should imply the right to divorce, the right to get pregnant the right to abort, and so on. How can anybody run a business without the right to fire?


      1. Clearly there is a right to fire. There is no state in the country that doesn’t allow employers to fire their employees. But right to work laws give employers disturbingly free reign. As professors we are immune to the effects of right to work laws because of tenure; for instance, it’s almost impossible for us to get fired if we teach a text or espouse an opinion that is displeasing to the administration. Most employees outside of the academy don’t have the rights we do. In right to work states, workers can get fired for a myriad of reasons–racial, ideological, gender. In particular, employees who display a desire to be unionized can get fired. And because of this, it often results in the dissolution and weakening of unions. And it’s almost impossible to prosecute dishonest employers. Right to work laws don’t protect individual liberties; it protects corporate interests.


        1. “And it’s almost impossible to prosecute dishonest employers. Right to work laws don’t protect individual liberties; it protects corporate interests.”

          – People who start businesses are also individuals. I have small business owners in my family and if they couldn’t fire, they wouldn’t be able to run their businesses.


  3. The problem is freeloaders. May father was one of those people who said he would quit his job if he ever had to join a union. No one ever succeeded in organizing his workplace, at least not while he was working there; I do not know what happened after he retired. I think he thought union membership was tantamount to being a Communist. He never actually said those words to me, but one of his close friends did. I think a sensible compromise is to have an agency shop provision, wherein employees who do not want to join a union can pay a fee to the union for their services but not be forced to join. The temptation not to pay union dues is strong when you can get all the benefits with none of the responsibilities.

    There are many variants here, of course. Actor’s Equity is in a sense a guarantee of quality of acting. Many theatre companies will not hire non union members for major roles, even if they are in a “Right to Work State.” Equity might well cancel their contract if they did. Then they would be completely free to hire anyone, but the quality of their performances would suffer. Audiences know this and many people will not bother attending non Equity theatre performances.

    In a large complex society, there is no substitute, sometimes, for enforced regulations. I do not see how requiring the payment of union fees or dues is different from requiring every worker to have a hardhat and safety shoes, say, on construction sites. Is this similarly a violation of individual liberties? Should professors be required to wear clothes on a hot summer day in order to teach?

    The difference is between having , say a salary of $80K and union membership, or a salary of $60K and no requirement to join. But if you can get the $80K because someone else is paying the dues, there is a strong temptation to take it. In the long run, this means everyone gets the $60K, or even less.


    1. Professors wear clothes because walking around naked would be against the law and constitute lewd and disorderly behavior. I think the issues of criminal law should be left aside for the moment because we end up comparing apples to oranges.

      If people can be legally forced to join a union, what is the legal basis for protecting them from being forced to join any other organization? Say, a prayer group at work?


      1. “If people can be legally forced to join a union, what is the legal basis for protecting them from being forced to join any other organization? Say, a prayer group at work?”

        That does happen, of course. As a Pagan, I would not now accept such a job unless I were starving, but my first job had such a requirement,


        1. “As a Pagan, I would not now accept such a job unless I were starving, but my first job had such a requirement,”

          – Horrible. Just horrible. That should be as illegal as forcing people to join a union, in my opinion.


  4. Part of the issue with this is that there is a disbalance in power between managers and employees. Due to cuts in unemployment insurance, it is harder to deal with a job loss. Therefore, if your boss is screwing you, it’s much more difficult to “quit and work somewhere else”. This therefore lets bosses get away being being dipshits and with abuse (of power, or of people). If there was a minimum income (like how I’ve proposed at this blog before) this power imbalance would be eliminated, because then an employee who is being screwed actually has a realistic chance of following through on a threat to leave. Employers will therefore have to work to keep employees.

    Healthcare being provided through employers also keeps people tied down to a job. If this was made “portable” (like with universal health care) the same would happen.


    1. I agree completely that a free universal healthcare system is a must. However, the minimum income is not an idea I could ever support because – and I hate to keep saying this – I have seen it put in practice. In the USSR, of course. That was an unmitigated disaster form start to finish. People just stop working. they do, massively and completely. And the worst part is that this is a generational thing. Even people who were born after that system was abolished and never experienced it first hand refuse to work. They prefer to starve but they won’t work. And I mean starve in a very literal sense.

      People who don’t have to work very rarely work. Whether they are very rich or very poor, the result is always the same.


      1. We have minimum pay rates here in Australia and have had for decades. The sky has not fallen even though employer groups assured us it would.


      2. By minimum income, I meant the exact sort of universal refund to replace welfare, food stamps, etc, that I had proposed in conjunction with a VAT or a negative income tax.


  5. Whether you like such laws or not, calling them “right to work” is a stroke of Orwellian genius. It implies that this is a right pertaining to workers (not, as is really much more the case, to their employers). It implies that workers have more of a right to work with such a law, when they really have less protection from being fired (i.e. not working.) What it really means is that a union can’t oblige an employer to have an all-union work force, even with a unionized shop. “Right to work” is dangerously deceptive shorthand for that situation (in my opinion.). Maybe nobody is deceived, but the name still bothers the hell out of me.


  6. “Right to violate the collective bargaining” laws for the private sector is against a fundamental right in free markets, the liberty to contract mutually.

    Exception: in the public sector (subsidized education should be included in that), I support right to work because the public sector is not a free market, because forced union schemes produce syndicalo-statist monopolies and because the public sector is financed by stolen money.


  7. Unions can’t compel membership, they compel the costs of collective bargaining to be paid. The employer needs things like rubber and union compliance, so it pays for these. To get union compliance employers have agreed to pay a certain amount per employee toward the costs of collective bargaining, whether or not they are in the union, through union security agreements. Why a non-union employee would know about these costs, let alone be given a choice about them, is beyond me. They might as well be given a choice about how much the company pays for its lease.


    1. Yeah, who needs to inform the stupid proles about what is being done in their name and on their behalf? They should just shut the fuck up and stop whining about their need to make choices about belonging to a collective that is supposed to represent them.


  8. Compromise is supposed to be part of a healthy legislative process. I propose we give the Republicans and their allies so-called “right to work”, and in exchange the good guys get repeal of Taft-Hartley.


  9. Both sides mis-lead in terms of their legislation. For example, the so-called “Employee Free Choice Act,” which removes a worker’s right to a secret ballot vote. The secret ballot vote is one of the main protections for workers, from intimidation by both unions and businesses. It also creates a lot of corruption (in terms of trying to bribe workers).


  10. The reason I oppose right-to-work laws and support unions is (mostly) because of the existence of corporations. People are allowed (and incentivized) to incorporate in order to benefit from their shared power and wealth. People on the labor side of the economy should have the same right. You are correct, of course, in that coercion is involved with unions – which is not true of corporations. However, corporations have the advantage of being supported by investors, people who by definition already have the means to live. Put simply, they don’t have their lives and their family’s lives on the line. Workers, without their jobs, cannot feed or house their families. This means that they will willingly submit themselves to poor job conditions on the basis that they are better than nothing when it comes to building a life. Which is true. But if a corporation can be a conglomerate of people gathered to improve their common lot, workers should have a similar type of bargaining power – something they just cannot when they must underbid one another for the privilege of having work.


  11. The ‘Right to Work” laws really are a misnomer. It was already illegal to force someone to join a union, or require membership in order to be hired,
    The issue was whether or not unions would be able to collect a service fee for the work that they do in representing all the workers, whether or not they are union members.
    The fact is, when a contract is negotiated, it covers all of the workers, not only the union members. You know that as well as anyone. This is about one thing, and one thing only. It is about reducing the influence that labor (organzined and otherwise) has in the political life of America. It is an attempt to de-fund unions so that only the wealthy can pay to influence how our laws are made.


    1. “The issue was whether or not unions would be able to collect a service fee for the work that they do in representing all the workers, whether or not they are union members.”

      – Do you believe that people should not choose what services they pay for? Is it OK for me to plant a twig on your lawn and send you a bill for it?

      “This is about one thing, and one thing only. It is about reducing the influence that labor (organzined and otherwise) has in the political life of America.”

      – These incantations are evidence that you don;t have a consistent argument to offer.


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