Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude ... shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
- United States Constitution, 13th Amendment
Labor bosses are fighting to keep people in unions against their will, forcibly collecting dues from unwilling members and using those dues to line their own pockets. In effect, labor leaders have imposed their own system of "involuntary servitude" on recalcitrant union members.
In California, for example, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) bosses in Fresno are engaged in a war to keep disgruntled members from defecting. Worker disenchantment with SEIU representation began in January, when Fresno County officials were forced to cut public workers' wages by 9 percent in light of the government's dire financial straits. Outraged SEIU bigwigs reacted in typical fashion by calling for a three-day strike.
But rank-and-file SEIU members were less than eager to blame county officials for trying to right the government's sinking fiscal ship. Union workers realized a return to financial stability required a shared sacrifice and took a dim view of their union bosses' petulant agitations. Before long, Fresno County workers began to seek decertification from SEIU.
For their part, Fresno correctional officers created another union and petitioned for a union election. Eulalio Gomez, president of the newly created Fresno Sheriff's Correctional Officers Association, commented on his group's decision to cut ties with SEIU: "I have an issue with a union telling you to go on strike in today's double-digit unemployment. One out of five people are not working here. We have people in a lot of financial distress, and they're out here with their whistles and their picket signs, doing what?"
Fresno Department of Social Services workers also have petitioned for a decertification vote from SEIU. Kandy Gonzalez, head of the new Fresno County Employees Association, compared cutting ties with SEIU to a "bad divorce." But SEIU thus far has refused to sign the divorce papers, to Ms. Gonzalez's dismay. "They're going to invest whatever money they're going to invest to keep us in this marriage," she says. "And what's sad is they're probably going to be using our money to fight us. They'll be using our dues to fight us."
Indeed, the Fresno correctional officers' decertification election, which had been scheduled for April, will be delayed for months because of an SEIU complaint with the Civil Service Commission. In the meantime, the workers literally are working for the union bosses against their will.
Even more outrageous, unions are maintaining that free-labor policies are the real perpetrators of modern forced servitude. In Indiana, for example, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) union bosses have filed a lawsuit charging that the state's new "right to work" law forces union members into "involuntary servitude." IUOE claims the law forces unions to negotiate for nonunion (non-dues-paying) workers, violating the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution. But this is merely union chutzpah at its most egregious - IUOE is not obligated to negotiate for exclusive representation.
There is a reason why unions are fighting to hold workers against their will and challenging laws that bring greater freedom to the workplace. Union leaders need a monopoly on labor in order to bankrupt governments and corporations, and they require unfree markets to maintain their own power and wealth.
Rank-and-file union workers across the country need to ask themselves: What kind of organization thrives in an absence of freedom?
Trey Kovacs is a policy analyst for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Matt Patterson is Warren T. Brookes fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and editor of Labor Watch at the Capital Research Center.