Because the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) empowers union bosses to represent workers who don’t want a union, Big Labor apologists contend, it must also empower union bosses to force unwilling workers to pay union dues or fees. Otherwise, the workers who wish to remain union-free will get a so-called “free ride.”
Ever since the Right to Work challenge to compulsory union membership, dues and fees emerged during the early 1940’s, this thin broth has been the mainstay argument of union officials and other opponents of voluntary unionism.
One simple and obvious response to Big Labor complaints about the purported “burden” imposed on them by NLRA Section 9(a) is to change the law and relieve union bosses of both the power and the obligation to bargain contract terms for union nonmembers under any circumstances. Indeed, Right to Work advocates have for many years called for Section 9(a) repeal, and have favored replacing it with a provision establishing that union officials would represent only members of their union in contract negotiations and grievance procedures.
But even if one accepts, for the sake of argument, that Section 9(a) will remain in place despite its evident flaws, Big Labor apologists’ case for compulsory unionism is still mortally deficient.
One important reason it just doesn’t make sense to cite government-authorized “exclusive” union representation as an excuse for forced union dues is that, under monopoly bargaining, workers who don’t want a union are “often actually made [economically] worse off” than they were before. This isn’t the assessment of a Right to Work proponent, but of law professor Sheldon Leader, an ally of Organized Labor. And it was made in a book that elsewhere advocates putting strict limits on the freedom of the individual employee to “dissociate” from a labor union.
Leader’s assessment of union monopoly bargaining’s impact on workers who wish to remain union free is shared by other labor law scholars who have considered the same facts he cites. In his review of Leader’s book, prominent labor policy scholar and Pennsylvania professor Clyde Summers emphatically agreed with him on this point, elaborating in his own words:
“Full-timers may bargain to limit the jobs of part-timers, seniority provisions may disadvantage younger workers, and wage increases of the low skilled may be at the expense of the highly skilled. . . . Determining whether the long-term benefits to a particular employee are greater than the burdens and risks of union membership is practically impossible.”
Today, roughly a quarter century after Leader’s book appeared and Summers (who has since passed away) reviewed it, proponents of forced union dues continue to rely on the monopoly-bargaining excuse. But they have never refuted what the two scholars had to say.
Academic apologists for coercing workers like Jannelle Jones and Heidi Shierholz of the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute (EPI) are either unaware that the claims they make are in direct conflict with the findings of leading labor law scholars, or hope their readers are.
In a report they recently coauthored to furnish ammunition for union officials who are fighting to block passage of Missouri’s Proposition A, a measure that will be on Show-Me State ballots when voters go to the polls for the 2018 primary elections on August 7, Jones and Shierholz make a monumental unsupported assumption. In Right to Work states, they assume, every unionized employee who chooses not to join the union “benefits” from being subject to union monopoly bargaining without financing it.
This is nothing but a Big Labor smear of the many low-seniority, highly skilled, and other employees in Right to Work states who are, in Leader’s words, “actually made worse off” by unionization.
If Proposition A is defeated, hard-working and talented Missouri employees across the state who hold a well-founded belief that they are hurt by a one-size-fits-all union contract will continue to be forced to bankroll the very organization that is lowering their pay and/or reducing their job security. That is like pouring salt in a wound.
Stan Greer is a Senior Research Associate for the National Institute for Labor Relations Research.