Unions and Coercion, Cont'd (one more time)

Published October 22nd, 2013 -  - 10.22.132

Wrapping up what (to me) has been a useful debate, VerBruggen offers a thoughtful reply to my latest post on the coercion question.  He writes:

My argument that unionism is coercive depends on the fact that the government is involved. If you work for a company at $15 an hour and there’s no contract saying your pay can’t be cut, you are not being coerced if your employer cuts your pay; you were not entitled to keep receiving $15 an hour, your employer was not obligated to keep paying $15 an hour, and you are free to seek employment elsewhere. But I don’t think it’s strange at all to say that you (and your employer) are being “coerced” if the government steps in and authorizes a union to void your contract and negotiate a new one on your behalf. In one case, private parties are coming to their own mutually acceptable arrangements and then abiding by them; in the other, the government is helping to alter those arrangements through the force — the coercion — of law.

I called the article “Why Conservatives Should Love Alt-Labor” for a reason. I was laying out what frustrates conservatives and libertarians about unions and explaining why those factors are not present in alt-labor, and thus I used the word “coercion” as libertarians and conservatives often use it: to denote the intrusion of government force into private arrangements.

If VerBruggen’s argument is that labor law is “coercive” simply because it amounts to government intervention into the employment relationship, then we have no argument: on this definition, labor law is coercive.   (To be fair, on this definition, all labor and employment law – from Title VII’s ban on employment discrimination to OSHA’s requirement of safe workplaces – is coercive.  Labor law, and the unionization it facilitates, would have no special claim to this type of coercion.)  But I took VerBruggen’s argument about the coerciveness of labor law to imply something more: that labor law forces employees to accept a union, or to accept the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, or to accept the process of collective bargaining.  None of those claims is accurate for the reasons I’ve pointed to already: because labor law leaves employees free to quit a union firm and work for a nonunion one, the law doesn’t force employees to do any of these things.

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