Compulsory-Unionism Advocates Don’t Favor ‘Freedom of Contract’

In West Virginia and other states where grass-roots efforts to prohibit forced union dues and fees are gaining momentum, Big Labor propagandists who aren’t normally known for their libertarian sympathies have adopted a Milton Friedmanesque rallying cry:  “Right to Work is an offense against the free market!”

But as Laurie Lin, a columnist for the Charleston (W.Va.) explained well last week, it is actually the pro-forced unionism National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), both in its original 1935 form and as amended by the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, that egregiously restricts “the freedom of individual employers and employees to bargain with each other.”  And the five-member National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which was established by the NLRA and administers this statute, and has nothing to do with state Right to Work laws, further encroaches on the freedom of contract:

[The NLRB] regulates, in minute detail, the posting of signs in the workplace. It has even attempted to tell companies where they can locate their factories.

Indeed, it’s safe to say that one of the few things the NLRB does not appear greatly concerned about is employers’ freedom of contract.

The NLRB ties employers’ hands even before their workplaces are unionized. It regulates what employers can and can’t say to workers about unions. It forbids them from granting benefits to employees to encourage them not to form or join a union.

It can be a violation of the law for managers simply to discuss the union with employees in a supervisor’s office, regardless of what is said.

Once a union is certified, employers are required under penalty of law to negotiate with union officials — and only union officials. It’s illegal for employers to refuse to negotiate with the union, or to negotiate separately with workers who might oppose the union.

Three cheers for freedom of contract, right?

And it’s not just employers’ contract rights that are affected. Labor law also restricts worker freedom by limiting what employees can do, apart from the union, to try to get a better deal from their bosses.

Wildcat strikes — strikes not specifically authorized by unions — are illegal. So are so-called “sympathy strikes,” where workers in one trade strike in support of workers in another.

And if you work in a state, like West Virginia, without a right-to-work law, a union can take a chunk of your paycheck whether or not you consent.

If you support all these limitations on workplace freedom — and the left emphatically does — it’s absurd to shout “freedom of contract!” only when it comes to right-to-work laws.

The truth is that in the context of a labor law system that stacks the deck in favor of unions, right-to-work laws are a valuable corrective.

As Lin went on to explain, if the entire NLRA were to be repealed, as the late renowned libertarian economist Milton Friedman advocated, there would be no need for state Right to Work laws.  Friedman believed that employers should be free to forge contracts prohibiting any employee from joining or paying dues to a union and also free to forge contracts requiring union membership and dues payment.

This is an intellectually respectable and principled stance, albeit one to which very few Americans adhere today.  But, as Lin concluded, it is in no way principled to support all the NLRA limitations on the freedom of contract, and at the same time attack Right to Work laws on supposedly libertarian grounds.  In fact, the phony “libertarian” attacks on Right to Work now being made by Big Labor bosses and politicians and their allies in West Virginia, Wisconsin, and a number of other states are an exercise in intellectual cynicism.

See the link below to read Lin’s entire column.

In order to thwart the passage of Right to Work legislation, union bosses and their allies sometimes cynically cast themselves as champions of freedom of contract and heirs of the late libertarian economist Milton Friedman. Photo: George Rose/Getty Image

Laurie Lin: Milton Friedman, progressive hero?