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Are “Right-to-Work” Laws Sometimes Wrong ?

Thursday, December 13, 2012
posted by Brian Brady

Like most folks on the right side of the aisle, I’m thrilled that the Michigan Legislature and Governor advanced economic freedom by passing right-to-work legislation.  Closed shops, created by law (Wagner Act), are reprehensible. But as much as we don’t want to force workers to join unions, can we prevent business owners, from entering into agreements, with a labor union, which require union membership as a precondition of employment?

Let’s look at some examples:

BigMart is a closed-shop, grocery store chain.  It has 25 stores in San Diego County and does business with five different unions:  butchers, bakers, service employees, trucking, and produce workers.  If the law required BigMart, to only hire unionized employees across the board, that would be wrong.   Unions which rely on the force of armed men, to implement their business model, are no better than the Mafia.

What about SoCal Steel Works though?  This manufacturing company willingly chooses to do business with two unions:  steelworkers and metal cutters.  Of its 500 employees, 100 of those employees require a high level of training, supervision, and must comply with safety procedures.  Rather than train, supervise, and develop and implement safety protocols, SoCalSteel Works chooses to “contract” the functions, of those 100 employees,  out to the two unions.  Why would SoCal Steel Works contract out those functions to the unions?  The unions add value, to both the employees and the company, by training and maintaining a labor force which can meet the needs of SoCal Steel Works.  Do the “armed men” then, have a right to interfere with an  arms-length agreement, between an employer and an association?

Not in a free society.  While I am highly critical of labor unions, I see where they can add  value to employers by furnishing trained workers.  They continue to add value as long as it becomes more cost efficient for an employer to use those unionized workers, on a “contract basis”, rather than train new workers themselves.  Do “right -to-work” laws then, violate the principle of free association, when they interfere with an agreement made free from the coercion of “armed men”?

I think they do.  We can’t create laws which deny the business owner the right of free association no more then we can enforce laws which require compliance with a forced association.  Let businesses and unions negotiate freely.  Some businesses will buy into the closed shop model and other won’t.  Business owners should look after long-term profits first and unions should add value to help the business owners achieve that profitability.

Forcing business owners to only hire union members is wrong.  Legally preventing business owners from deciding how to best run their businesses is equally as wrong.  The government should just leave the private sector alone.

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