Boots & Sabers

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2203, 15 Dec 14

Vos Weighs in on Right to Work Legislation

There’s good and bad here.

Vos expressed reservations about attempting to rush right-to-work legislation during the next session. He did say, however, that people need to show how it would benefit the state before any proposals move forward.

“If the business community wants it, if activists want it, if employers want it, they need to make the case why having right-to-work in Wisconsin is good for growing jobs, bringing more companies here, having our economy grow and thrive,” Vos said.

Vos went on to say that he would not support an exemption for trade unions as a component of right-to-work legislation.

“Either you say people have the right to join the union or you don’t. Is it worth it or not?” he said.

The good is that Vos is making it clear that Right to Work is an all or nothing proposition. It sounds like he won’t stand for carve outs and exclusions.

The bad is that Vos is laying out a framework in which the only justification for passing Right to Work is is it will demonstrably improve the economy. If evidence from other states is any guide, it might – depending on what you are measuring. Right to Work tend to have a more dynamic economy and add jobs more quickly, but it is one piece in a much larger economic puzzle. Bearing in mind that only 12% of Wisconsin’s private workforce are members of unions, Right to Work will likely have a relatively small impact on the economy. But, as I said, judging from other states, it certainly won’t hurt.

As a conservative, which Vos generally is, he should also know that the more pressing reason for Right to Work is a moral one – not an economic one. No person should be forced to pay dues to a third party group as a condition of their employment. Period. It is immoral and unnecessarily restrains the liberty of the individual. There are rare times when there is a compelling state interest to restrict individual liberty, but this is not one of them. The only beneficiaries of a closed shop state are the unions who gain more dues. The state has no compelling interest to force people to give their hard-earned money to unions any more than to any other private organization.

Let us hope that Speaker Vos chooses to accept arguments outside of the rigid framework he expressed here.


2203, 15 December 2014


  1. scott

    “the more pressing reason for Right to Work is a moral one – not an economic one. No person should be forced to pay dues to a third party group as a condition of their employment. Period. It is immoral and unnecessarily restrains the liberty of the individual.”

    Interesting argument. Not sure I’m buying it, though. Don’t we force all kinds of people to pay for things as a condition of their employment? Besides, you’re always free to not work at a union shop.

    “The only beneficiaries of a closed shop state are the unions who gain more dues.”

    Um, what about the workers who make a lot more money? And that might well be our “compelling interest.”

  2. Conley

    Enlighten us with the Local you’re signed on with. And never heard of people being forced to pay for things to work (except for licenses).

    That avatar is creepy. Please fix.

  3. Owen

    And never heard of people being forced to pay for things to work (except for licenses).

    I was trying to think of anything else too. People are forced to pay for various government things like licenses, taxes, etc. when they work. Sometimes they have to buy things directly related to their job, like a uniform, tools, etc. But I can’t think of any other example besides unions where the government enforces a law that requires employees to give their money to a third-party advocacy organization.

  4. scott

    I was thinking of various professionals who must pay for licensure/membership in professional groups, etc. But no matter. If this situation is in some ways unique, I’m not bothered by it. It also has unique benefits. If you want to work in a unionized workforce, you join the union. The proper exercise of your freedoms is to work there or work somewhere else. The upside of that limitation is that it raises the wages, benefits and working conditions of people employed there–and, indirectly, those of others as well. Seems like an OK deal to me, especially as it seems to have worked rather well for my father’s generation. He never belonged to a union, but certainly received the benefits of high wages in a workforce with 25% unionization. Since that time union membership has fallen and the American worker’s wages have stagnated. I’m not too excited about the “freedom” to make less money or the “freedom” to live in a community where my neighbors make less money.

  5. Owen

    If you think that it is acceptable for the government to force people to pay for unions as a condition of their employment, then we simply have a different value on that point. That’s fine and an honest point of disagreement.

    The rest of your points are moot. Whether or not unions are good or bad for the workers has nothing to do with government intervention in that decision. I think that people should be free to join and pay for a union if they choose to. In some cases, you are probably right. Particularly in some of the trades with seasonal work where the unions offer apprenticeship programs and whatnot, I think it would be a good idea to join the union. In other cases, perhaps not. But the principle is that the worker should decide – not the government.

    Couple other reactions… the stagnation of American wages has far more to do with globalization than unionization. In relatively low-skill jobs, like factory work, the decrease of international trade barriers and improvement of transportation infrastructures has enabled those jobs to simply go to the place with the best value in terms of cost, quality, and output. It has a lesser effect in higher-skilled jobs and jobs that are inherently local (dentist, plumber, etc.). Unions did have a positive impact 70 years ago when the American economy was relatively closed. In the modern economy, wages for a factory worker have to compete with the same wages all around the world. While the union may demand a higher wage, the reality is that the world market will dictate the wage and will decide whether American wages compete in the global market or not. This depression of American wages is not good for our country, but that is a larger economic debate that has very little to do with unionization.

    Second, this is a statement that you and I have the luxury of making: “The proper exercise of your freedoms is to work there or work somewhere else.” I am a highly-educated, highly-skilled worker. I have the freedom to be selective about which company I want to work for and can consider their workplace environment, market standing, ethical practices, and the like. The average unskilled 19-year-old high-school grad looking for a shop job does not have that luxury. They need to work and will go with the best opportunity available to them. The freedom you espouse isn’t really an option for many of the people you are purporting to defend. In fact, what you are advocating is forced unionization because you believe it is for their own good. I disagree and think workers should have the freedom to make their own decision on whether or not a union is the best path for their lives and careers.

  6. scott

    Thanks for a thoughtful response. But isn’t the choice you’re protecting just the freedom to choose whether or not to pay for the increased wages and benefits that the union is providing them? Isn’t it, as Jay Bullock wrote recently, the right to freeload?

  7. Owen

    Ahhhhhh, the free rider, or “free loader,” argument. The short answer is, yes, I do support the right of people to choose to join a union or not irrespective of any benefit they may receive from it.

    A free rider is someone who receives a positive externality from the actions of someone else. In other words, he gets a benefit without having to pay for it. The free rider problem is an economic problem in which demand outstrips supply, thus creating scarcity, in a good or service because people are allowed to consume it without paying for it. It leads to market inefficiencies and a misallocation of resources.

    There are free riders all over our society. I received the benefit of expanded 2nd amendment rights thanks in some part to the advocacy of the NRA, but have never sent them a check. You are benefiting from the conversation on this blog, but didn’t pay for it. The classic example is the farmers who receive the benefit of bees who pollinate their crops and don’t pay the beekeeper anything.

    As in those examples, yes there are free riders, but the benefit received from the people paying the bill does not cost the other folks anything. In the case of unions, will people who choose to not pay into the union still receive benefits that come as a result of union bargaining? Perhaps. Assuming the unions bargain well, the company may extend some or all of the negotiated benefits to all employees in or out of the union. Sure. So what? Don’t the union members also receive the benefit of their dues? Yes. Does the fact that someone else benefits too cost them any more? No. Sure it may tick off the dues-paying union members, but that’s an emotional reaction to a perceived slight – not a rational reaction to an actual cost incurred.

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