Is the Last Refuge to Which Forced Unionism Clings, ‘It’s Good For Barack Obama’?


The national, non-union, conventions

In his latest Labor Day weekend op-ed, Nelson Lichtenstein, one of the top cheerleaders for compulsory unionism in academia, makes a few charges against state Right to Work laws that won't withstand a moment's scrutiny. The only claim that's somewhat credible is that the rise of voluntary unionism is detrimental to President Obama's re-election chances. (Photo by Brandon Wu.)

Even if you fail to notice the days are getting shorter and the leaves are beginning to change color, you can always tell summer is coming to an end when fusty “mainstream” newspapers like the LA Times turn their op-ed pages over to a high-ranking union official or an academic apologist for Big Labor so that he or she can explain to us why it’s a shame that monopolistic unionism continues to decline in America’s private sector.

In the Times, southern California’s leading media establishment oracle, this Labor Day weekend, the place of honor goes to Nelson Lichtenstein, history professor and director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at UC Santa Barbara.

Lichtenstein (who shouldn’t be confused with Liechtenstein, a tiny and charming alpine country) takes several potshots at state Right to Work laws in his latest screed. It is hard to believe that, after decades of publicly championing forced unionism, he is still unaware of the standard and convincing rebuttals to his assertions. But he shows no interest in addressing any Right to Work counterarguments.

For example, Lichtenstein bemoans the fact that both presidential conventions this year are taking place in Right to Work states, where “it is illegal for a collective bargaining contract, even one freely and amicably negotiated, to make union membership a condition of employment.” Of course, as Lichtenstein knows full well, under federal law it has already been illegal for eight decades for employers and employees to “freely and amicably” negotiate a contract that makes union nonmembership a condition of employment. And Lichtenstein would surely never countenance repeal of the ban on “yellow-dog” contracts in the 1932 Norris La Guardia Act. So he doesn’t really believe in “freedom of contract” per se, despite his dishonest rhetoric. He just believes union officials should be free to force employers (as Big Labor is empowered to do under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act as currently amended) to bargain over contracts compelling all employees to join or pay dues to a union.

Lichtenstein also pulls out the canard that “wages are low” in Right to Work states, without even acknowledging in passing that all observers who have looked into the matter have found that the cost of living is on average far higher in the 27 forced-unionism states than it is in the 23 states that protect workers from being fired for union nonaffiliation. When private-sector compensation per employee is adjusted for California’s extraordinarily high cost of living with the help of indices created by the nonpartisan Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, for example, it turns out that the average Golden State private-sector employee took in roughly $2000 less in wages, salaries, benefits, and bonuses last year than the average employee in a Right to Work state. It seems the relatively high union density in California lauded by Lichtenstein does not actually put higher real, spendable incomes in workers’ pockets.

Lichtenstein’s final argument for why public policy should favor corralling more workers into unions is likely the one he takes most seriously. Giving union officials monopoly-bargaining and forced-dues power over employees inevitably also means giving Big Labor a platform to indoctrinate the employees in command-and-control economics and political leftism generally. Being subjected to monopoly unionism actually “change(s) the political worldview” of rank-and-file employees, in Lichtenstein’s words. And that’s a good thing, from his perspective, because left to themselves employees would be too likely to vote for candidates he disfavors.

Unlike Lichtenstein’s other arguments for forced unionism, there appears to be a good deal of truth in this last point. But, unfortunately for Lichtenstein, the overwhelming majority of Americans, whether they are Democrats, Republicans, Independents, or something else, see no reason why labor policy should be geared toward persuading employees to vote any particular way this November 6 or on any Election Day.