In all of the furor over the passing of the latest right-to-work law, this time in Michigan, those who profess a confidence in the free market have found themselves opposite their own pronouncements.
The Wolverine State’s newest landmark legislation, like all other so called “right-to-work” laws, prohibits union-shop contracts that require employees to join a union or pay union dues. These contracts are voluntary agreements between the employer and the union. Thus, right-to-work laws codify a government diktat over who a private business owner may hire and how he or she may interact with their employees. This, ostensibly, is the same breed of government interference in the market that Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians claim to oppose yet it is this faction (save for select libertarians) that are celebrating the passage of these laws.
The right’s disdain with unions stems largely from the realm of public finance, where fiscal conservatives support measures that reduce the often exorbitant and always noncompetitive salaries of unionized public sector employees in an attempt to trim government expenditure. In response, union bosses spend a great deal of money, from dues-paying union members, padding the campaign coffers of Democratic candidates thereby adding a partisan element to the debate and exacerbating tensions between unions and the right.
Whatever the merits of restricting collective bargaining rights of public sector employees may be, proponents of a free market must not let their disdain for unions cloud their view of right-to-work laws that are anathema to libertarianism.