Sunday, April 20, 2014

Right to Work Laws and Union Security Agreement Contracts

Written on April 15th, 2012
Edited in April 2014

   "If legislation... had not created privileges for the unions, the need for special legislation concerning them would probably not have arisen... 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.

   ...Such legislation... should not go beyond declaring certain contracts invalid..."

- Austrian School economist Friedrich Hayek

   Over the past year, I have been inclined to criticize "compulsory-unionism" laws (the private-sector labor laws which exist in non-Right-to-Work [RTW] states, pursuant to the National Labor Relations Act), even going so far as to characterize such laws as conferring government-afforded monopoly privileges to labor unions.

   However - as I have determined that I had overlooked some important details about private-sector labor laws in the course of my research, and also that I had neglected to examine the issue in the context of contract rights (which I have described as the basis of all legitimate governance) - I have recently had to re-think my stance on private-sector labor law.

   Before my recent research, I had thought that in non-RTW states, the management of all unionized workplaces within a given state is required to negotiate with the single labor union recognized by the government as having the exclusive right to represent workers in negotiation - whether or not such workers sanction and approve of that representation - and that employees in unionized workplaces who do not join unions within a given time frame can be fired.

   Essentially, I'd thought that in non-RTW states, all unionized workplaces had union-shop union security agreements (henceforth referred to as USAs).

   What actually happens in non-RTW states is that employers and labor unions are permitted to enter into contracts functioning as USAs (which include closed-shop, union-shop, agency-shop, fair-share-provision / dues-checkoff), which usually entail that one particular union has the exclusive right to represent workers within the workplace.

   (In contrast to this practice, the Industrial Workers of the World [I.W.W. / Wobblies] support dual-unionism, the practice of two unions to represent workers in negotiation with the management of the same workplace).

   Before criticizing the Hayek quote and summarizing my position, I'd like to make it clear that I am not totally reversing my stance on private-sector labor laws.

   First, I would support legislation which would prohibit the federal and state governments from mandating that all unionized workplaces within given jurisdictions make closed-shop or union-shop USAs (meaning that only union members may be employed, and that workers must join the union within a certain time-frame in order to keep their jobs, respectively). Although I don't think such mandates would be likely in the U.S., I would note that Mexico had a closed-shop mandate until about two decades ago.

   Second, I do not support any union security agreements, much less enthusiastically so. I feel that they often:
(1) act as unnecessary barriers of entry into the labor market,
(2) increase unemployment levels and the cost of living,
(3) make it less likely for new and fledgling labor unions to gain prominence, exacerbating the oligarchicalization of agencies representing workers in negotiation with management,
(4) make independent ["wildcat"] strikes less likely to occur,
(5) narrow the range of acceptable tactics for - and goals of - negotiation, and
(6) [in the case of union-shop agreements], fail to ensure that employees become aware during their job interviews of their obligation to join the union as a condition of employment within a given time-frame [which is what happened to me at one of my first jobs].

   I do not see why there should exist an agency like the National Labor Relations Board which has the authority to approve and deny unions' requests to engage in strikes. I imagine that Hayek would describe this system as a labor policy which is only practiced due to special legislation, and I would agree with that characterization.

   However, I would not put union security agreements in the same category. I believe that collective bargaining in the private sector is a right. This is not to say, though, that unions have the right to compel management to accede to their demands. What I mean is that workers' rights to collectively bargain is limited by management's willingness to entertain and give credence to claims of such rights.

   Essentially, anything goes, so long as government, unions, management, and those who support them do not - and may not - compel one another to act against their will. I would add that this notion is not fundamentally different from the private-sector labor policy which is administered in non-RTW states today.

   At least ideally, we have a contractual government (meaning that laws are contracts made between consenting agents), government honors all contracts made amongst consenting individuals, and legislation cannot impair the obligation of contracts (contracts, however,may be impaired retroactively as the result of judgments in lawsuits).

   This is why I find myself at odds with Hayek when he asserts that "legislation... declaring certain contracts invalid" is acceptable and desirable.

   In closing, the following is a summary of my policy on private-sector labor (at least, as it stands today):

   (1) Repeal the National Labor Relations Act and abolish the National Labor Relations Board. They are not necessary to uphold the right to collectively bargain (which existed prior to - and exist independently of - the current federal private-sector labor-policy system), and they diminish the role of independent, non-government-sponsored unions.

   (2) Repeal the Taft-Hartley Act, invalidating state Right-to-Work laws. These laws impair the obligation of contracts, which - whether retroactively or not - are inhibitive of individual rights and the freedom of association.

   (3) Enact legislation prohibiting the federal and state governments from mandating closed-shop and union-shop union security agreements in all unionized workplaces within the given jurisdictions.

   (4) Vociferously discourage unions and management from making union security agreements in negotiation.

   (5) Encourage unions and management to practice members-only collective bargaining and open-shop agreements, in order to counter-act the free-rider problems which arise as the result of success of point (4).

   (6) Encourage dual- and multiple-unionism. Encourage unions, union members, and union supporters to tolerate competition by other unions, and encourage management to negotiate with multiple unions.

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