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Will the Supreme Court deal a blow to trade unions?

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jouris in reply to A. Andros

I would agree with you in general that "capital cannot be allowed to hold all the cards." But this specific case is not about labor vs capital. It is about labor vs taxpayers.
We have civil service laws for the excellent reason of addressing the spoils system which existed before them. But one feature of civil service laws is that it is extremely difficult to fire government employees, even for massive underperformance. To give them union bargaining power on top of that seems really excessive.
At minimum, if there are to be government employee unions at all, those unions should be forbidden to strike or to engage in lobbying or other political activity. Want to engage in politics with your union? Go work in the private sector.

jouris in reply to nearmsp

That would seem to be the core issue: do employees who are not members of the union automatically and necessarily get the same pay and benefits as union members? Or are companies free to strike seperate bargains?
In particular, do the unions, in their contracts, insist on non-members getting to same treatment as members? If so, they have no basis for complaining about "free riders."


The Article grossly misstates the legal issues in this case which doesn't involve "trade unions" at all!! This case involves Public
Employee Unions and whether the Government motivated by Political Action by these "public employees" and their Barons can FORCE Union Membership or dues contributions on those seeking Government Employment. That is a Very Different question than stated in the (totally biased) Article. Many public employees including teachers DON'T want to be bossed around by Unions. What Government Interest is served by FORCING Unions and Union "discipline" on them?? This Article reveals how Leftist and Propaganda oriented many Economist Editors have become. Public Employee Political Machines TOTALLY Dominate many "Blue" states and their insatiable and greedy demands for No Fire or Termination for any cause employment as well as pensions, salaries and benefit packages that are BEYOND extravagant are pushing Connecticut, New Jersey, California,New York and Illinois ever closer to a Puerto Rican style Meltdown! Of course the Economist Editors think this is JUST the way things are!


The argument that the government compels payments all the time is misplaced here. The government's taxing authority is both wide and deep, and this is why the government can compel payments to ITSELF for a wide variety of PUBLIC purposes. This case poses a different scenario -- employees are being forced by the government to pay money to a private entity for that entities private purposes. Moreover, that private entity is dealing exclusively with public sector employers, and therefore their lobbying and negotiating efforts are at least quasi-political in their nature and impact. While I certainly would applaud the federal government passing a law ordering everyone in the U.S. to pay $10 each to LexHumana to support my personal lobbying efforts, I think everyone would rightly object that this is a legal overreach on the part of the government as a compelled deprivation of property that is not for public use, as well as a violation of their right of association and their right of free expression.


So you want the benefit of the collective bargaining, and also the freedom not to pay the union due? what a double-dealing two-faced Janus!

jouris in reply to A. Andros

I confess that I absorbed much of my attitude towards unions at my father's knee. He was a carpenter, and he belonged to the union his whole working life, because it was required here if you wanted to work as a carpenter. But he held the union in contempt.
That began, I believe, early on. He would go into the hiring hall, looking for work. The Secretary would tell him (loudly) "No, no. Nothing today." Followed, under his breath, by "See me out back in 10 minutes." Because, of course, there was work. Union rules required that job opportunities go first to the more senior members. Those guys weren't interested in working; they wanted to sit around in the hall playing cards. But the secretary was supposed to send them out first. Hence the ruse to send Dad, who did want to work, out to the job.
His position, notwithstanding his contempt for the reality of the union, was that unions absolutely had to be legally allowed and protected. Even though they had metastasized, they still needed to be available.
I hope that answers your question, at least somewhat.


TE: "Compelling payments is quite common, Messrs Volokh and Baude observe, and usually raises no First Amendment worries. “'The government collects and spends tax dollars, doles out grants and subsidies to private organisations that engage in speech, and even requires private parties to pay other private parties for speech-related services—like, for example, legal representation.'”
IMO, there's a big difference between being compelled to pay a tax to support a government program and being compelled by the government to financially support a private organization as a condition of employment.

WT Economist

Background -- in virtually every state where public employee unions are politically powerful, they have engineered big retroactive increases in the pensions of retired and soon to retire public employees, creating fiscal crises.
And then agreed to "share sacrifice" by agreeing to drastically lower pay and benefits for newly hired members.
A large share of the public workforce hired in the past decade has thus been robbed by the very unions they are required to contribute to.

With all due respect, your comment has NOTHING to do with the actual issues before the Supreme Court. This is a Public Employee Union powers and privileges case and has NOTHING to do with the supposed " fact that the corporations have manipulated their workers, who no longer even qualify for the middle class" !! That statement is false in itself and whenever in recent years Union Representation has been put up for a vote: the Union Loses, hands down!!

A. Andros

I pay taxes to the government because it is inevitable that government find its revenue somewhere. It is not my choice nor should it be. There is simply no logical relationship, though, between paying taxes and paying union dues. The first is the basis of all civilization. The second is no more than loading the dice in labor/management disputes.
"Right-to-work" laws undercut organized labor. Unions are invariably corrupt and, more often than not, ineffective. Many exist for the sole purpose of funneling dues to a mob-influenced leadership.
But, without representation there are few ways an employee can protect himself from an abusive and exploitative management. And, without a compulsory payment of dues, there is little chance of any representation at all.
Capital cannot be allowed to hold all the cards.


As a union member for 20 years, I have some points to counter the view of the editorial board that unions are justified and legal and have the right to compel payment by every employee.
Compelling payment by government for taxes is entirely different to giving that power to a single monopoly union.
The argument that employees benefit from negotiation done by union and thus warranting forced payment assumes, every employee wants the union to be the sole monopoly negotiator.
The argument if we make union payment optional then everyone will avoid paying so make it compulsory is not valid. This same argument can be used to force people living in a city to pay for tolls, otherwise only a small group of people who use the toll shoulder the burden. The non users of the toll road benefit from lower congestion in non toll roads.
As a union member myself, let me sleigh another argument provided to support compulsory union membership here. To quote "A Congressional Research Service study shows that workers in states with fair-share fees join unions at a rate nearly triple that of workers in “right to work” states where membership is strictly optional." I either pay $1200 union dues or $995 fair share member dues. For avoiding some $200 fees, I have no say as a Professor in curriculum development committees and many of academia related committees because the union runs these committees and only elected union members can sit in on these committees. I would hope and pray the Supreme court would give me the freedom to negotiate my own working conditions. Being forced to pay membership (what ever name you call it fair share or union member dues) to an organization that goes against all my beliefs in freedom of speech to negotiate my own working conditions and salary based on my performance. As a peak performer, the union is short changing me to benefit non performers and dead wood. The government is encouraging "taking" of my labor of sweat by a non governmental organization.

let freedom ring everywhere

The growth in unions early in the 20th century led to shifting the rewards of our economy to labor at some expense to capital. Increasingly, we valued and rewarded work and not wealth. That changed when in the 80s Reagan started attacking the unions. The rapid expansion in inequality in America since then coincides neatly with the collapse in union membership.

Correlation is not causation, but this is a situation where it makes excellent sense to conclude that eliminating unions wherever possible is part of the corporatist takeover of America. The fact that the corporations have manipulated their workers, who no longer even qualify for the middle class, to take up their cause, is astonishing and disappointing. People are afraid to push for what's in their own best economic interest. in reply to Tom Meadowcroft

First, I too worked in a union pre college, don't work in one now, and had the same experience of them you did. I also was very frustrated with union rules that protected incompetent teachers at my high school In short, they are a very imperfect tool -- though they DID mean I got paid enough to save for university (with the aid of scholarships).

But then I started seeing case after case of people getting hosed by workplace politics etc, in situations where they had few other options. In particular, when your boss is a politician (civil service, teacher, police, etc) or your employer is a local monopoly (or nearly so) in your profession then the game totally changes. The market becomes small, captive, and illiquid... and it does not care.

I consider unions a very blunt instrument. A tight job market and strong human rights protections are a far better answer. Your comment about the rise of unions being DESPITE employer nastiness is quite true. My question is, why did employers eventually acquiesce to organized unions? Call it the 'Otto von Bismarck equation'.
- A union bargain is far cheaper than sabotage.
- A mandatory union contract is much better than 'mandatory' being enforced with fists in back alleys.
- Legal unions and labour parties are cheaper and safer than a revolution (e.g. 1848).

Have times changed? Yeah, they have. Neither I nor my employees need a union. But if you're a teacher, or a small town factory worker, or a government scientist, you still need a union to protect you. Sucks, but true. in reply to

Also worth notiing: you say "are due none of the benefits or costs of union membership". That's true only in the first-order analysis. But in reality if the employer wants to get rid of the union, they simply routinely pay non-union workers a premium until the union vanishes, and then crack down. It's just like any other predatory-pricing strategy. We know where it leads; we don't really need to learn again the hard way, do we? in reply to Tom Meadowcroft

People are routinely forced to join a group and/or pay in order to receive a service -- from the College of Physicians to insurance to drive on the roads, to a members-only health club. Collective bargaining can certainly be a burden, and unions can certainly go rotten (what can't?) but the value of a union comes when the employer has really disproportionate control over your life or career. If there's only one or two sawmills in town, or school districts, or employer of medical-lab techs, then there's not much of a free market. Losing that job without decent cause means having to sell your house, uproot your kids from school, move away from your friends... it's not like losing a software job in Silicon Valley!

Tom Meadowcroft in reply to Perthonality

Why should a union be able to claim a monopoly on the supply of labor, skilled and unskilled, to a company? Why can I not enter into an individual contract with the company to sell my services? If the union provides a valuable service and there is benefit to me in collective bargaining, then I can join. But if I am a good worker who has taken the time and trouble to acquire valuable skills, I am almost certainly better off with an individual contract.
This is not 1970s. Most of the companies with large masses of undifferentiated non-skilled labor forces have changed or disappeared. The old rationale of compromising on individual freedoms to maintain "labor peace" is simply not relevant in 2018.

Tom Meadowcroft

People should not be forced to join a private group or to pay dues to that group. In a modern corporation, there are many non-supervisory workers whose best interests are served by not joining a union, because many modern jobs require many varied skills, and lumping the skilled and unskilled together in a union generally disadvantages the skilled. Those with skills in demand will generally have better compensation and relations with the company with an individual contract. Others may choose to not join a union because they dislike the leadership of that union. Often unions stress healthcare and retirement, to the expense of the younger members, because the leadership is dominated by older workers. This is why unions have become less relevant as companies that used to employ large undifferentiated masses of unskilled labor have given way to companies with variegated and differentiated workers and jobs. Unions, where they still exist, use the enforced membership of high skill workers to boost the pay to low skill workers at the cost of the pay of the high skill workers. The company suffers when the high skill workers leave for non-union shops. Unions can still be relevant for companies with masses of low skill workers, and governments would do those workers a favor by making it easier for part time workers to organize, and by making it harder for employers to declare workers contractors. But unions are ill suited to modern manufacturing, for instance. Congress and the states should be legislating better legal protections for individual workers, and cracking down on unfair work practices, which are common. But the 21st century unions will never be as big or politically important as the 20th century ones were. They simply aren't that useful for many workers. And that is why closed shops should not be defended. That is why the "labor peace" rationale of the 1970s, a poor excuse even then for a legal precedent, is no longer relevant.
I think the justices need to make clear that all non-supervisory workers are free to designate themselves either a part or not a part of the bargaining unit. Those who do pay the dues and bargain as a group. Those who do not are therefore governed by individual contracts with the company, and are due none of the benefits or costs of union membership. If that decimates unions, it is because workers do not value their unions today, which is entirely understandable. Teachers get little respect as professionals primarily because of their collective behavior as a union. Good teachers will thrive outside of a union. If I were a teacher who had the option, I would certainly leave the union.