All across the political spectrum, there are disagreements on the relationship of right-to-work, worker’s rights and employer’s rights.
What is Right-to-work?
Right-to-work laws have been enacted in 22 states stretching from Nevada and Colorado to North Dakota and across the Southeast. Right-to-work laws, as well as the “union shop” and “agency shop” rules came from statutes of the Taft-Hartley Act.
A “Union Shop” is one where in order to hold a job at such a facility, one must join the union and/or pay dues/fees. In other words, you must be putting money in the union’s treasury or you cannot work in a union shop. An “agency shop” simply requires the payment of dues/fees to keep the position, no membership is required.
Right-to-work statutes simply say that no employee can be forced to join a union or pay dues/fees as a condition of employment. This “open shop” rule does not prevent an employee from joining a union – it simply leaves that choice to them and prevents an employer from terminating them based on their union membership status.
Labor-rights activists and the progressive movement believe that if a member can choose to not pay dues into the union, he/she may benefit on the back of the union-negotiated contract without having paid into the organization. Before long, no worker would want to pay into an organization if there were no perceived benefits.
The progressive-left is heavily in-support for forced union membership. But freedom must also be considered. The owner of the business must be able to choose who is hired or fired without impediment from a labor organization. The employee must also be able to choose to or not to enlist in the union as it is his/her money that will be used to fund union’s political efforts.
If the union is negotiating and acting in the best interest of the workers, it is logical to foresee that many workers would desire to join such an organization. The antithesis is also true and may be why unions are fighting against re-certification rules such as that put forward in Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair bill.
Libertarians have taken two different stances based on the perspective of whose freedom is being protected. From one perspective, the employer’s freedom to hire and negotiate a contract as he/she wants is should not be challenged by any interference from the government – both from a union shop or right-to-work view. The other perspective would focus on the employee’s right to freely assemble (or not) – join a union or don’t.
Section 2.7 of the Libertarian platform states:
We support repeal of all laws which impede the ability of any person to find employment. We oppose government-fostered forced retirement. We support the right of free persons to associate or not associate in labor unions, and an employer should have the right to recognize or refuse to recognize a union. We oppose government interference in bargaining, such as compulsory arbitration or imposing an obligation to bargain.
While all free-market Capitalists should be able to support this plank, the rub is in the implied outcome – what if an employer wanted only union members in his shop? Then there is contention between the freedom of the employee to pursue gainful employment and the freedom of the employer to do as he wishes with his business – his property.
This could present a situation where all business-owners in the all-to-critical blender repair sector choose to only hire union workers. The non-union blender repairman is then forced to join a union and give a portion of his check, his property, unwillingly – or face unemployment.
Free-Market Conservative View
From a free-market Conservative standpoint, the impact these statutes on worker’s freedom are discussed in F.A. Hayek’s book The Consitution of Liberty :
If legislation, jurisdiction, and the tolerance of executive agencies had not created privileges for the unions, the need for special legislation concerning them would probably not have arisen in common-law countries. But, once special privileges have become part of the law of the land, they can be removed only by special legislation. Though there ought to be no need for special ‘right-to-work laws,’ it is difficult to deny that the situation created in the United States by legislation and by the decisions of the Supreme Court may make special legislation the only practicable way of restoring the principles of freedom.
Right-to-work is only necessary because laws exist to protect the unions. If we could abolish the National Labor Rights Act – so could be gone the Right-to-work laws. If one remains, so shall the other. Unfortunately, it is not reasonable to think that will happen any time soon.
Personally, I like the idea of the Libertarian plank even though I do not belong to the Libertarian party. We should get rid of NLRA, union shops, agency shops, right-to-work .. all of it. The reality is that there is no appetite for it in the current political climate. We have to move towards it as a strategy, using well-defined tactics or we will be stuck with all of it for the foreseeable future – or worse.
First we have to give workers the freedom to vote their unions in or out on regular basis (recertification). Then as unions are forced to become more customer-focused or die, NLRA becomes less relevant and easily dismantled. Once NLRA goes, right-to-work can be burnt in the ashes of government interference.