Monopoly Bargaining Alone Puts Individual Employee ‘Under Powerful Compulsion’ to Join a Union

Government union bosses’ inordinate power over public servants, taxpayers, and other Americans who rely on the vital services furnished by schools, police departments, and other government agencies rests for the most part on two special privileges.  In slightly fewer than half the states, including high-population California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio, public employees are forced as a condition of employment to pay union dues or fees, or be fired. And in more than 30 states, public employees, whether they are union members or not, can be statutorily forced to accept the officers of one union as their monopoly-bargaining agents on workplace matters, including pay, benefits, and work rules.

Well-informed observers of Organized Labor, regardless of whether they are allies or critics, have long recognized that monopoly bargaining is the most important privilege of all for union officials. And perhaps the clearest description of why this is so was offered  by the late Thomas E. Harris.

A Harris speech published by the principal AFL-CIO Newsletter in 1962, when he was the union conglomerate’s associate general counsel, viciously attacked the Right to Work cause and its advocates. But Harris also tersely admitted that union officials use their monopoly-bargaining privileges like a cattle prod to herd more workers their under control, and to punish those who resist:

“The fact that the union will negotiate the contract which regulates the incidents of [a worker’s] industrial life puts him under powerful compulsion to join the union . . . ,” said Harris.

That Harris’ observation remains true today is clear from the 2014 data on public-sector unionism in the 24 states with Right to Work laws on the books at that time.  (Wisconsin did not become the 25th Right to Work state until last year.)  With the exception of public-safety employees in Michigan and a relative handful of other public employees under yet-to-be expired forced-dues contracts in that state, whose forced-dues ban took effect in 2013, no public employees in Right to Work states could legally be fired for refusal to pay union dues or fees in 2014.  And yet data from the web site, maintained by respected labor economists Barry Hirsch and David Macpherson, show that 83% of unionized government workers in Right to Work states as a group were dues-paying union members in 2014.

Moreover, that same year 22.7% of all government jobs in Right to Work states were unionized, a union “density” well over two times as great as the private-sector average for forced-dues states.

The fact that roughly 83% of unionized public-sector employees in Right to Work states in 2014 were union members doesn’t mean that nearly that high a share actually believe they are benefiting from unionism.

In Right to Work as well as forced-unionism states, a unionized employee has to join the union in order to have any say whatsoever over the contract that Big Labor negotiates with the employer.  Consequently, it is almost certainly more likely that, even in a Right to Work state, an employee who thinks the union in his workplace is doing a lousy job will nevertheless join, than that an employee who thinks the union is doing a good job will nevertheless refuse to join and pay dues.

At the U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments this month in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a landmark case challenging the constitutionality of government sector-forced union dues and fees, Big Labor California Solicitor General Edward DuMont, representing Golden State Attorney General Kamala Harris, tried to suggest otherwise by citing the example of federal employees.  Well under half of federal employees choose to join the union that purports to represent them.

What DuMont and Harris overlook is that the scope of federal union bosses’ monopoly-bargaining privileges is far more narrow than it is under state laws authorizing public-sector monopoly bargaining.  As DuMont and his client could have learned from reading the Wikipedia entry on the Federal Labor Relations Act, under this statute union bosses may not negotiate the “following working conditions . . . : Wages, Hours, Employee Benefits, and Classifications of Jobs.”

For this reason, unionized federal employees are under far less “powerful compulsion” to join a union they don’t want than state or local government employees.  But had DuMont cited the available data for state and local government employees in Right to Work state, they would have shown that 83% join and pay dues.  This would certainly have undercut the Friedrichs respondents’ claim that restoring state and local government employees’ First Amendment freedom not to bankroll an unwanted union nationwide would “destroy” government unions.

As Thomas E. Harris, then AFL-CIO associate general counsel, said back in 1962, “The fact that the union will negotiate the contract which regulates the incidents of [a worker’s] industrial life puts him under powerful compulsion to join the union . . . .” Image:

said – Supreme Court of the United States