On more than one occasion, I’ve heard some libertarians object to right-to-work laws on the grounds that they undermine freedom of contract by barring employers from negotiating closed shop agreements with unions if they so choose. At Reason‘s Hit & Run blog, J.D. Tuccille repeats this argument. Tuccille says he opposes Michigan’s new right-to-work law because it “bans closed shops in which union membership is a condition of employment.”
Libertarians generally oppose banning contractual agreements into which parties voluntarily enter, so Tuccille’s objection seems reasonable — but only because it ignores the alternative. Tuccille quotes Gary Chartier of La Sierra University, who rhetorically asks:
If employers choose to conclude union-shop contracts with unions, what gives the Indiana legislature the right to interfere?
Because there is no jurisdiction anywhere in the United States where there is no such interference at all. Simply replace “union shop” with “open shop,” and the one-sidedness of Chartier’s query — and Tuccille’s position — becomes clear. Why should the government forbid an employer from negotiating a voluntary membership agreement with a union?
Chartier’s and Tuccille’s argument makes sense in a political vacuum, but not in the reality we live in. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which regulates all private sector labor relations in the U.S. (except for railroads and airlines), mandates closed shops, while allowing states to opt out of the closed shop mandate through right-to-work laws. So, under the NLRA, closed union shops can be either mandated or forbidden. Yes, making closed shops optional for employers would be a much better option, but until the NLRA is repealed, right-to-work laws remain the most viable palliative to compulsory unionism.
For more on labor, see CEI’s labor policy blog, WorkplaceChoice.org.