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Being Pro-union Means Being Antiworker

After becoming the apparent president-elect, Joe Biden clearly promised to unify Americans. However, that promise was in sharp contrast to what his campaign promises would actually achieve.

Granting unions their fondest wishes is clearly part of Biden’s labor policy, as illustrated by his statement that “I am a union man. Period” in his 2019 campaign-opening speech and his website’s opposition to the “war on organizing, collective bargaining, unions, and workers” under the current administration. And International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) president Lonnie Stephenson asserted a Biden administration would advance unity because it would be “a win for all working people.”

The problem is that Biden’s support for unions, particularly the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which is the primary means of granting their wishes, would help unions at the expense of the vast majority of American workers, a major blow to unity.

The PRO Act passed this February in the Democrat-controlled House but without Republican-controlled Senate approval. Carl Horowitz wrote that it would “dismantle virtually every existing safeguard against union monopoly in the private-sector workplace.” Eric Boehm described it, it is a “veritable grab bag of policies that labor unions have been pushing Congress to pass for years,” to further advantage unions at the expense of others’ freedom of association.

Unions already deprive many Americans of their freedom of association. As the Supreme Court found in Janus, unions inflict a “significant impingement on associational freedoms that would not be tolerated in other contexts.”

Union “rights” already delete workers’ freedom to associate with a different union, to choose alternative forms of group representation, such as voluntary unions, and to represent themselves in negotiations with employers. They delete workers’ freedom to associate with nonunion employers or to resolve workplace issues directly with employers, forcing arrangements exclusively through unions.

They delete employers’ freedom to not associate with unions or to solely employ workers who have no union involvement. In heavily unionized industries, they undermine consumers’ freedom to associate with lower cost, nonunion producers and force taxpayers to face higher-cost government services as a result of government employee unions. In each of these ways, freedom of association is applied only as a special privilege for unions and denied to others.

Further, unions violate the most basic freedom of association of many current union members. Many have never been given the right to vote on unionization, and those who might try are often kneecapped. That is because once a majority of the workers for an employer votes to certify a particular union, it becomes the monopoly negotiator for all workers. No further elections need ever be held, and attempts are strewn with roadblocks. So workers added after a union is certified need never be given a vote on the union, those who voted for it need never be given a chance to reconsider. That means no one who started work in GM’s Michigan plants since 1937 has voted to certify their union, and virtually no one who started work in government within the last half century has either, revealing that even union workers’ freedom of association is also a victim.

The PRO Act would exacerbate all those denials of workers’ freedom of association. It would repeal right to work laws, which twenty-seven states have to protect workers from being forced to join a union and pay union dues involuntarily. It would require employers to provide private employee information (including cell phone numbers, email addresses, and work schedules) to union organizers, violating the associational rights of those who don’t want to join or be approached by unions. It would allow unions to initiate snap elections in nonunion workplaces more rapidly, limiting opponents’ ability to present opposing positions. And it would codify “card check” elections, eliminating the protections against coercion provided by a secret ballot.

It would allow the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to invalidate a vote against unionization for virtually whatever what it decides was “employer interference.” It would require contractors and franchisees to bargain with unions, regardless of whether they have control over wages, benefits, etc., outlaw employment arbitration clauses, authorize “secondary boycotts” by unions against companies maintaining a business relationship with a target company, and more.

Far from unions benefiting all workers, advancing unity, they actually create disunity not only by constricting workplace competition, but by denying many others their freedom of association. Further, those denied that fundamental right include many union members, whose interests unions supposedly represent. And the PRO Act that Joe Biden is all in for will increase the discriminatory treatment of Americans. That is an odd way to advance our unity, regardless of the words claiming otherwise.

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Gary Galles
Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. He is the author of The Apostle of Peace: The Radical Mind of Leonard Read.
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