If Fruit Farmers Have a Constitutional Right to Hold on to Their Raisins, Shouldn’t Workers Have a Constitutional Right to Hold on to their Paychecks?

Last week CNBC reported (see the link below) on the mounting controversy over a type of government program that can force a farmer to hand over a portion of his or her annual crop “without getting paid for it.”

Such programs, known as “agricultural marketing orders,” are authorized by a Great Depression-era law, the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act (AMAA).    Marketing orders supposedly “help” farmers by preventing “overproduction” that could drive down prices.  The confiscated produce are sometimes sold abroad, in which case the profits may be used to bankroll domestic advertising campaigns promoting unbranded produce.

Agricultural marketing orders have been in the news lately as a consequence of a case ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court early this summer, Horne v. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The case was brought by raisin farmers Marvin and Laura Horne, who have for more than a decade been refusing to fork over a portion of their crop as required by the Raisin Marketing Order (RMO), which is authorized by the AMAA and was established during World War II.

After the Hornes defied the RMO for a number of years, the federal government charged them $650,000 in back payments and fines for raisins they hadn’t turned over to the so-called “Raisin Administrative Committee,” or RAC, an organization of producers empowered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement the RMO.

The Hornes refused to pay anything, and claimed they had a clear legal right not to do so, because the RMO “violates the Constitution’s ban on taking property without compensation.”  A federal district court rejected this constitutional claim, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit determined it did not even have to consider it due to a legal technicality.

However, the Hornes and their attorneys persisted, and this June the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously found that the 9th Circuit had erred in refusing to weigh the Hornes’ constitutional claim.  The High Court remanded the case back to the 9th Circuit, ordering it to rule on the question of whether or not the confiscation of the Hornes’ crop with insufficient or even no reimbursement amounted to a taking of their property without due process of law.

Americans of all political stripes are likely to agree the Supreme Court did the right thing in Horne v. USDA and hope that the 9th Circuit finds such crop confiscations are unconstitutional  when it rehears the case.

Unfortunately, no similar relief is in sight for employees whose economic rights are trampled by monopolistic unionism in a way that is remarkably similar to the impact of the RMO on the Hornes.  Just as the RMO empowers elected bureaucrats to confiscate raisins from farmers to prevent “too many” of them from being sold in America’s private-sector markets, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the Railway Labor Act (RLA) empower elected union officials to impose productivity-quashing work rules on union members and nonmembers alike.  The aim of such work rules, in many cases, is to “protect” workers’ jobs by preventing them from producing too much, just as the RAC aims to keep raisin prices high by deterring farmers from growing too many.

Moreover, under the NLRA and the RLA, workers who may not think they benefit from work rules that keep them from being “excessively” productive are forced to fork over dues or fees to the union acting as their “exclusive” bargaining agent, just as the Hornes have been ordered to turn over a share of their raisins to the RAC.

Here’s hoping the federal courts finally find, more than three-quarters of a century after the AMAA was signed into law, that fruit farmers really do have a constitutional right to hold on to their raisins.  After that, perhaps Capitol Hill will finally recognize and defend workers’ constitutional right to hold on to their paychecks!

Raisin’ hell over the ‘Raisin Reserve’