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Freedom's Phoenix

The Individual's Right To Work

April 15, 2009 - 9:38am
Richard Sutton by Richard Sutton


Right-to-work laws are statutes enforced in twenty-two U.S. states, mostly in the southern or western U.S., allowed under provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act, which prohibit agreements between trade unions and employers making membership or payment of union dues or "fees" a condition of employment, either before or after hiring.

While I support some of the goals of Unions I have a personal objection to being told that I cannot work in an industry unless I "join the club" or "play ball",  don't you?

The Taft-Hartley Act does permit employers and unions to operate under "rules" which I define here:

"Union Shop" Rules: require all new employees to join the union after a minimum period beyond their hire date.  Under these rules, employers are obliged to fire any employees who have avoided paying membership dues necessary to maintain membership in the union; however, the union cannot demand that the employer discharge an employee who has been expelled from membership for any other reason.

"Agency Shop" rules: under these rules employees must pay the equivalent of union dues, but need not formally join any union.

"Open Shop" rules: Under these rules an employee cannot be compelled to join or pay the equivalent of dues to a union, nor can the employee be fired if he or she does join the union. The employee may work, regardless of whether he or she is a member or financial contributor to a union.  The Federal Government operates under "open shop" rules nationwide.  I'm OK with Open Shop Rules as they do not infringe the rights of individuals nor do they prevent people from joining Unions - I think that is appropriate in a free society.

Proponents of right-to-work laws point to the Constitutional right to freedom of association, as well as the common-law principle of private ownership of property. They argue that workers should be free both to join unions and to refrain from joining unions.

States with "right-to-work" laws that make union organizing more difficult had twice the job growth of forced union states from 1995–2005, according to the National Institute for Labor Relations.

Opponents argue right-to-work laws create a free-rider problem, in which non-union employees (who are bound by the terms of the union contract even though they are not members of the union) benefit from collective bargaining without paying union dues.  They also contend outlawing compulsory union dues makes it harder for unions to organize and less attractive for people to join a union.  For these reasons, they often refer to right-to-work states as "right-to-fire" states, and "non-right-to-work" states.

Opponents further argue that because unions are weakened by these laws, wages are lowered and worker safety and health is endangered.  While I agree workplace safety is a laudable goal, I would say that individuals choose their workplace factoring in such considerations.

A right-to-work law can be seen as either freeing individual employees from being coerced into joining a union, or as restricting the right of an employer to enter into a voluntary contract with its labor union.  But an employer should not have rights that supercede those of individuals and compulsory membership, or at least dues, restricts the freedom of individuals.

It may also be reassuring that, for better or worse, most of the reforms demanded by unions in days past have been made into law and no longer require "activism".

Reading this article by James Sherk of the Heritage Institute is also informative.

Related Content:

The Catharsis of the American Civil War: How the Near Division of the United States Served to Strengthen the Union - Kimberly Ruff
The Perils of Success - The Angry American
Asset Forfeiture - Richard Sutton

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