The Problem of Compulsory Unionism
Under the American legal system, which has its origin in English common law, free people are free agents, not commodities.
Under common law, everyone owns the fruit of his or her own labor, the rewards of his or her own talents and enterprise, and should be free to offer or withhold his or her talents in the open marketplace.
Each person should be free to choose either collective or individual means for negotiating his or her wages and working conditions.
This aspect of individual rights does not preclude collective bargaining, as long as participation by an individual in a collective arrangement is truly voluntary.
The true role of government in a free society is to protect the individual’s ability to exercise his or her rights without harassment or interference.
Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address, spelled out this concept of the role of government in a free society:
“A wise and frugal government shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government . . .”
What follows is a closer look at the two-step process of forced union representation and forced union dues, the harm it does to workers and the economy, and evidence that the only real solution is the rejection of forced unionism.
The National Labor Relations Act Denies Individual Rights
“Exclusive representation” (more accurately, monopoly bargaining) privileges are the source of compulsory union power.
Handed to union officials by Congress in the National Labor Relations Act, monopoly bargaining gives union kingpins the leverage to herd workers into unions and then force them to pay union dues.
Under federal law, if union organizers win a representation election by even 50% plus one of those voting, they are empowered to negotiate contracts on behalf of all 100% of the workers. In fact, under some circumstances, union officials become monopoly “representatives” even when most workers are against them! And by law each and every worker loses his or her right to negotiate directly with the employer on his or her own behalf.
This trampling of individual rights flies in the face of what the Bill of Rights is all about. As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson wrote in Board of Education vs. Barnette:
“The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to [place] certain subjects . . . beyond the reach of majorities. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to a vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”
Instead, federal law recognizes only one representative for “workers” — unions and union officials.
The fundamentally flawed assumption underlying all U.S. labor policy is that individual working Americans are incapable of pursuing their own best interest and, for their own good, must be forced to have a union official act on their behalf.
Robert Reich, President Clinton’s first Labor Secretary, acknowledged with remarkable candor (in a 1985 Associated Press report) that coercion is woven directly into U.S. labor law: “In order to maintain themselves, unions have got to have some ability to strap their members to the mast.”
Reich explained union officials’ rationale for using coercion to herd workers into collectives against their will: “The theory is that the only way unions can exercise countervailing power vis-a-vis management is to hold their members’ feet to the fire . . . Otherwise, the organization is only as good as it is convenient for any given member at any given time.”
These are shocking admissions, but for those who believe in compulsory unionism, they are logical assessments of the coercion necessary to prop up a monopolistic collective.
As noted economist and Nobel Laureate F.A. Hayek wrote about U.S. labor law:
“It cannot be stressed enough that the coercion which unions have been permitted to exercise contrary to all principles of freedom under the law is primarily the coercion of fellow workers. Whatever true coercive power unions may be able to wield over employers is a consequence of this primary power of coercing other workers.”
A recent poll by the Marketing Research Institute found that over 84% of Americans believe that employees who do not wish to be represented by a labor union should have the right to bargain for themselves. In fact, some 75% of union-member households agreed that such monopoly bargaining is wrong.
However, federal law has explicitly rejected the option of individual choice in favor of a coercive, collectivist system.
Forcing Workers to Pay Union Dues Simply Adds Insult to Injury
Union bosses fought hard for, and jealously guard their federal exclusive representation privileges and fight zealously against their repeal.
That’s because union officials rely on their privilege as the sole monopoly bargaining representative for all workers in a bargaining unit as the pretext for the next layer of union coercion: forced union dues.
First, union organizers take control of a group of workers and a company by using federal law to obtain monopoly bargaining privileges.
Then, union officials demand a contract which requires all of the workers to pay full union dues.
Naive employers are often stunned to find that union negotiators will frequently sacrifice higher wages, better hours and working conditions for their members to induce employer cooperation in stripping union-dues money from their employees’ pockets.
And if the employer is adamant in opposition to handing over his or her employees, federal law levies fines against his employers for “refusal to bargain” over forced dues.
Union Officials Refuse to Give up ‘Burden’ of Exclusive Representation
George Meany, the late president of the AFL-CIO, admitted in testimony to Congress that union bosses originally demanded the exclusive representation privilege and will never give it up:
“When a union has exclusive recognition with a federal activity or agency, that union is required to represent all workers in that unit, whether or not those workers are members of the union. We do not contest this requirement. We support it for federal service, just as we support it in private industry labor-management relations.”
Yet the same George Meany also complained about that requirement to “represent” workers and demanded that those workers who are trying to preserve what remains of their independence be forced to pay for union “representation” they don’t want, and aren’t permitted to refuse.
The National Right to Work Committee offers a simple and fair solution to union officials’ phony complaints about the “burden” of representation: repeal the monopoly bargaining privileges of the NLRA so that union officials represent only those individuals who voluntarily join and pay dues to the union.
Perhaps the most important economic effect of “exclusive” monopoly bargaining “representation” is its impact on labor-management relations.
Monopoly bargaining creates and then perpetuates the conflict-based collective bargaining system preferred by union radicals.
Former Yale law professor Robert Bork described how labor law encourages this conflict:
“Our labor law, and the ideology that supports and suffuses it, encourages the organization of employees into fighting groups, and lets the wage bargain depend on the outcome of the fight. The rhetoric of union organization and struggle is the rhetoric of war.”
This “hate-the-boss” mentality drives a wedge between employees and employers and helps force workers into dependence on the “services” of grievance adjustment and arbitration provided by union barons.
Union bigwigs have carefully installed themselves at the center of labor-management relations through the exclusive representation privilege and use it to ruthlessly suppress anyone who puts their privileged position at risk.
Monopoly Bargaining Enthrones Union-Boss Control Over Workers
Federal law makes it nearly impossible for workers to escape union-boss “representation.” The only choice other than quitting one’s job is to request and then win a decertification election.
Both in terms of the rules and available resources, the individual worker is at a huge disadvantage in facing union bosses.
Once union officials gain monopoly bargaining privileges, they effectively hold that power forever.
Armed with monopoly bargaining power, union officials have a variety of ways to threaten, intimidate, and force out anyone who questions their conduct or disagrees with their actions.
As longtime labor lawyer, former Watergate prosecutor and Harvard professor Archibald Cox wrote:
“Most men are reluctant to incur financial cost in order to vindicate intangible rights. Individual workers who sue union officers run enormous risks, for there are many ways, legal as well as illegal, by which entrenched officials can ‘take care of’ recalcitrant members.”
Union officials control union treasuries, union offices, strike votes, contract negotiations, and all other union power and privileges without fear of workers exercising any practical restraint on the union officials’ control.
“Compulsory unionism and corruption go hand in hand,” warned the late Senator John McClellan, who exposed rampant union corruption in his famous Senate investigative hearings.
Monopoly bargaining places no “burden” on union officials. Rather, it is a source of power over workers that union big shots use ruthlessly.
Full Worker Freedom of Choice Means: Repeal Monopoly Bargaining
State Right to Work laws protect workers from paying the forced union dues authorized by federal law.
Currently 22 states have Right to Work laws and the National Right to Work Committee is working to enact Right to Work laws in every state in the union.
But monopoly bargaining provisions of federal labor law force even workers in Right to Work states to accept union “representation” they may not want.
The only permanent solution is to remove from federal labor law those provisions that grant union officials monopoly bargaining privileges in the first place.
That’s why the National Right to Work Committee supports enactment of a Voluntary Bargaining Bill. Voluntary bargaining legislation would reestablish the right to either bargain for yourself or bargain collectively.
The Voluntary Bargaining Act would not stop anyone from joining a union — but it would protect every American from forced union membership, forced union dues or forced-union representation.
The Vision of Voluntary Unionism
This principle of voluntarism is, after all, the historical basis of the early union movement.
Samuel Gompers, the founder of the American Federation of Labor, was deeply committed to unionism as a voluntary institution. He noted that:
“The workers of America adhere to voluntary institutions in preference to compulsory systems which are held to be not only impractical but a menace to their rights, welfare and their liberty.”
Somewhere along the line, union officials lost Gompers’ original vision of voluntarism and embraced coercion is its place.
Nearly 85% of Americans, including the 1.9 million members of the National Right to Work Committee, believe it’s time to return to the voluntary unionism espoused by Samuel Gompers.