For the better part of a century, scientific opinion polls have shown that Americans overwhelmingly oppose compulsory unionism, and it is indisputable that, if union officials did not rely on laws authorizing the termination of employees for refusal to join or bankroll their organizations to maintain and expand their wealth and power, they would be much less unpopular with the public than they currently are.
Pundit Jonathan Rauch, a contributing editor at The Atlantic and National Journal and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, obviously thinks it’s unfortunate that the share of American private-sector employees who are unionized has declined since the 1950’s. But in a long article in the Atlantic’s latest issue bemoaning the predominance of union-free labor in the modern U.S. economy, Rauch never even mentions compulsory unionism, which has been embedded in federal law going back to the 1930’s and in state law going back to the 1970’s, and has arguably done more to turn workers against Organized Labor than any other factor.
Instead, Rauch pretends the vast majority of his fellow citizens who mistrust a movement that stubbornly defends its prerogative to get workers fired for refusal to pay fees to organizations they choose not to join are irrationally prejudiced against Big Labor!
His article, “The Conservative Case for Unions,” makes a number of striking, but altogether unpersuasive claims. For example, Rauch uncritically cites the fanciful opinion of Inside-the-D.C. Beltway “think tanker” Eli Lehrer that Big Government tends to get even bigger when the share of employees who are subject to “exclusive” union bargaining declines.
Since Big Labor is widely and correctly recognized as by far the most effective lobby for increased government spending and higher taxes on all kinds of people in America, it would be truly remarkable if Lehrer and Rauch were correct.
But the obvious truth is that they are egregiously wrong. Monopolistic unionism actually fuels higher taxes and government spending, as data collected by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation clearly show.
In early 2016, the last time the Tax Foundation updated its ongoing analysis of overall state and local tax burdens in the 50 states, the Institute reported on what the findings showed regarding the relative tax burdens for residents of forced-unionism and Right to Work states. (See the link below to read the whole thing.) Of course, a far higher share of the workforce is unionized in the states where unionism isn’t voluntary.
According to Tax Foundation data combined with U.S. Census Bureau data on state populations for 2012, that year state and local taxes consumed nearly 10.8% of personal income in the 27 states that then lacked Right to Work laws, but just a little more than 8.6% of personal income in the 23 states that protected employees’ Right to Work at the time.
The 16 states with the heaviest state-local tax burdens in 2012 (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin) all lacked Right to Work laws at the time.
On average, state and local taxes consumed a 25% higher share of personal income in forced-unionism states than in Right to Work states. And the primary reason is that government spending per capita is far higher in forced-unionism states.
Therefore, with all due respect to Jonathan Rauch, if an American favors smaller government, the last thing he or she ought to be doing is clamoring for government to hand Big Labor more coercive power over employees and employers. Rather, small-government advocates should support grass-roots efforts to rescind union bosses’ compulsory-dues and compulsory-fee privileges where they still wield them.