TAMPA, December 13, 2012 ― As expected, the reaction to Monday’s column about Michigan’s right-to-work legislation inspired spirited discussion.
Weeding out both praise and invective that were unresponsive to my argument, there was a dissent that had merit. It was the libertarian argument that right-to-work laws also violate the rights of employers and employees to make a voluntary contract. An employer should be free to require membership in the union and/or payment of dues as a condition of employment.
Like most libertarians, I agree with that argument in principle, but one cannot evaluate right-to-work laws in a vacuum.
Right-to-work laws and the Taft-Hartley Act from which they proceed are wholly a reaction to the Wagner Act. The proponents of Taft-Hartley first tried to get the Wagner Act repealed. When the Supreme Court ruled Wagner constitutional, conservatives passed Taft-Hartley. If the Wagner Act were not already law, Taft-Hartley would be both unnecessary and unjust.
However, in the context of the Wagner act, neither is necessarily true. A brief allegory will illustrate.
Employer Smith sits down at the bargaining table with Union Jones. The two discuss potential terms of an employment contract, but are unable to reach an agreement. Jones wants more than Smith is willing or able to pay. Smith gets up to walk away.
Just then, Luca Brasi walks up and makes Smith “an offer he can’t refuse.” Brasi puts a gun to Smith’s head and invites him to sit back down, assuring him that at the end of the meeting, either his brains or his signature will be on a collective bargaining agreement.
Brasi is the Wagner Act.