- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2011


Even as they scream for “workers’ rights,” the one workers’ right that union bosses despise is the right to work. Big Labor and its overwhelmingly Democratic allies oppose a woman’s right to choose whether or not to join a union. Instead, they prefer that predominantly male employers and labor leaders make that choice for her.

The American left has hoisted “choice” onto a pedestal taller than the Washington monument. Liberals and their Big Labor buddies will race to their battle stations to defend a woman’s right to choose to abort her unborn child. Meanwhile, they holler themselves hoarse to prevent her (and her male counterparts) from freely choosing to accept or avoid union membership.

Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, understands that exercising this choice is a basic human right and neither private employment nor government work should require joining or paying dues to a union.

“Many Americans already are struggling just to put food on the table,” Mr. DeMint stated, “and they shouldn’t have to fear losing their jobs or face discrimination if they don’t want to join a union.” Thus, on Tuesday, Mr. DeMint introduced S. 504, the National Right to Work Act (NRTWA). If not today, then soon, a federally protected individual right to work should be signed into law.

The NRTWA’s economic rationale is compelling:

c Among America’s 22 RTW states (including Florida, Georgia and Texas), nonfarm private-sector employment grew 3.7 percent from 1999 to 2009, while it shrank 2.8 percent among America’s 28 forced-union states (e.g. California, Illinois and New York).

c During those 10 years, real personal income rose 28.3 percent in RTW states and sank 14.7 percent in forced-union states.

c In 2009, cost-of-living-adjusted, per-capita, disposable, personal income was $35,543 in RTW states versus $33,389 in forced-union states. Americans in RTW states enjoyed more freedom, plus a $2,154 premium.

Notwithstanding that RTW states are comparatively prosperous engines of job growth, the case for RTW is not merely economic - but moral.

“Government has granted union officials the unprecedented power to force individual employees to pay up or be fired and to coerce workers into subsidizing union speech,” says the National Right to Work Committee’s Patrick Semmens. “This fundamental violation of individual liberty - an infringement on freedom of speech and freedom of association - finally would end with passage of the NRTWA.”

“Compulsory unionism … should not be lawful under a free government or tolerated by a free people,” Donald R. Richberg argued in his 1972 book, “Compulsory Unionism: The New Slavery.” As a labor attorney and federal official, Mr. Richberg helped draft landmark union laws, including the 1926 Railway Labor Act, the 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act and the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. Later in his career, however, Richberg considered such legislation authoritarian.

Richberg wrote: “A voluntary organization of workers united for self-help is inherently a much stronger organization than a union composed, to a considerable extent, of unwilling members.”

Indeed, labor leaders should not fear voluntary membership. If their talents for securing higher wages, richer pensions and cozier working conditions are truly as impressive as advertised, Americans should line up to sign up. If, however, unions must dragoon workers into their ranks, why should government allow or even mandate such bondage?

Last October, pollster Frank Luntz surveyed 760 private- and public-sector unionized employees. Eighty percent agreed that union membership and dues should be optional. Hence, the NRTWA is good policy and good politics - if only Republicans and free-marketeers would promote it.

Today’s union bosses may dismiss the NRTWA as a right-wing plot. But they should recognize that it reflects the philosophy of a pioneer union boss.

None other than Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor, once wisely said: “I want to urge devotion to the fundamentals of human liberty - the principles of voluntarism. No lasting gain has ever come from compulsion. If we seek to force, we but tear apart that which, united, is invincible.”

Deroy Murdock is a syndicated columnist and media fellow with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

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