Hey, Union-Label Politicians: Federal Policy Already ‘Inserts Itself’ Into Private-Sector Labor-Management ‘Agreements’

Ever since Congress adopted the Norris-LaGuardia Act and Republican President Herbert Hoover signed it into law in 1932, federal policy has explicitly declared that private-sector workplace contracts in which employees agree not to join or financially support a union in order to get or keep a job are unenforceable in federal court.  And starting roughly three-and-a-half decades after Norris-LaGuardia went on the books, a series of federal court decisions such as Atkins v. City of Charlotte (1969) similarly prohibited “no-union” workplace contracts in state and local government.

Today the statutory and case-law protections for front-line employees who wish to join a union, even if the majority of the other front-line employees at their workplace prefer to remain union-free, are well-entrenched.  Very few, if any, elected officials anywhere in the U.S. question whether it is right to prohibit the firing of employees for joining a union.  And no one suggests that, while it should be illegal to fire employees for joining a union, employment contracts that authorize the firing of employees for paying dues to the union they’ve joined should be enforceable in court.

In legislative debates over Right to Work laws, which protect employees from being fired for refusal to join or pay dues or fees to an unwanted union, supporters and opponents of such laws routinely agree that the longstanding legal protections for the right to join and bankroll a union without being fired as a consequence are good policy and should stand.

The difference is that Right to Work supporters believe the individual right to bankroll a union and the individual right not to bankroll a union you oppose are equally worthy of protection under the law.  In contrast, Right to Work opponents clearly believe, even if they don’t say it bluntly, that the freedom to affiliate with a union is more important than the freedom not to affiliate, and therefore public policy shouldn’t grant each freedom the same level of protection.

Of course, Big Labor politicians are rarely so blunt.  Either out of ignorance or guile, they generally don’t acknowledge the undeniable fact that federal policy has for more than eight decades prohibited business employers and employees from forging “no union” workplace agreements.  This allows them to pretend that Right to Work laws constitute a peculiar and surprising form of “interference” in labor-management relations.

Union-label members of the Wisconsin Legislature, which now appears poised to enact a state Right to Work law over the course of the next couple of weeks, are relying heavily on such reality-challenged rhetoric to derail efforts to prohibit compulsory union dues and fees.  For example, late last week, union boss-“friendly” state Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-LaCrosse) complained that a Right to Work law is “the government inserting itself into private [labor-management] agreements . . . .”  (See the news story linked below for more information.)

Message to Sen. Shilling and all the other politicians in the Badger State and elsewhere who have made the same misleading claim:  Federal policy already “inserts itself” into private workplace agreements by effectively barring “no-union” contracts.  And given how entrenched Norris-LaGuardia is, federal policy will surely continue thus to “insert itself.”  The only question is, will public policy be evenhanded and furnish equal protection for the right to support and the right not to support a union, or will it be one-sided and furnish far less protection for the right not to join a union than for the right to join?

Is anti-Right to Work Wisconsin Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-LaCrosse) really unaware of the fact that federal policy has long prohibited employment contracts that make union nonaffiliation a job condition? Or is she just feigning ignorance? Image: Wisconsin Radio Network

Sidelined Wisconsin Democrats can’t stop right-to-work