Libertarian writer J.D. Tuccille, himself a former member of the United Auto Workers, argues in Reason magazine’s blog that right-to-work laws are “wrong and un-libertarian.” The basis of his argument is that the laws intrude on the rights of employers to negotiate contracts:
Tuccille approvingly quotes a fellow libertarian, Gary Chartier:
If employers choose to conclude union-shop contracts with unions, what gives the … legislature the right to interfere?
Employers own the wages they will pay and the sites where work will be performed under such contracts. So it’s their right to dispense the wages and make the sites available specifically to union members, just as it’s their right, more generally, to trade with anyone they choose.
When a legislature interferes with voluntary employment contracts, it infringes people’s freedom to bargain with their own labor and possessions. Treating this kind of interference as acceptable means licensing arbitrary interventions into the market by politicians, who are ill-equipped to second-guess the decisions made by the real people making work agreements with one another.
Tuccille adds: “The ideal role for the government in business-labor relations is to stay the hell out of it and let the parties work things out themselves. I may prefer one outcome or another, but I don’t have the right to enforce it by law, and that’s what right-to-work legislation does.”
As the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Ivan Osorio points out, this is hopelessly utopian thinking that ignores the current laws regarding union organizing:
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 Yes, making closed shops optional for employers would be a much better option, but until the NLRA is repealed, right-to-work laws remain the most viable palliative to compulsory unionism.
I would add that I don’t see why even under a scenario where the NLRA didn’t exist that employers should to be able to mandate that an employee join an outside private association, even – or especially – one with connections to the employer. That’s still impinging on the worker’s right to determine what associations they belong to. Allowing employers that much power over employees is a good example of why pure libertarianism turns some people off.