Labor Watch

In Defense of Taft-Hartley: Advancing Voluntarism

In Defense of Taft-Hartley (full series)
Why Taft-Hartley Came to Be | The Taft-Hartley Consensus
Advancing Voluntarism | Protecting the Public

Advancing Voluntarism

For conservatives, there is no good reason to abandon the consensus principle of voluntarism, especially workers’ freedom to refrain from union activity. They should continue advancing right-to-work policies, policies to curtail the power of organized labor to “represent” workers who do not wish to accept its representation, and policies to curtail the power of organized labor to coerce workers to fund its full-spectrum left-wing political agenda.

Every conservative dragooned by circumstance into a unionized workplace is compelled to make a Hobson’s choice: Either concede any voice in the workplace by resigning from the union, or pay dues that will support such wonderful institutions as the Women’s March, ballot measure committees pushing for gun control and Planned Parenthood-backed sex-ed curriculums, and the electoral-advocacy arm of the Arabella Advisors network of liberal dark money, the Sixteen Thirty Fund. In 24 states, even making the concession and giving up voice requires payment of union fees. The least conservative policymakers owe their supporters is to not make this situation any worse.

The Biden administration and Big Labor are pushing to conjure a National Labor Relations Board doctrine known as Joy Silk from the legal dead. It would preference “card check” organizing and make it easier to dragoon the unwilling by denying workers a private means to express their views on unionizing. In an age of cancel culture, that privacy is more important than it perhaps ever has been. For that reason, conservative policymakers must work to defeat the revival of Joy Silk and Big Labor’s wider effort to replace secret-ballot unionization with card check.

They should also defend traditional notions of joint employment, targeted by Big Labor to ease organizing of franchised small businesses as if they were the New Deal–era Big Business with the consent of the national branding companies ripe for targeting by Big Labor’s corporate campaigns. If principle isn’t enough to motivate that defense, maybe self-interest will. Do conservative policymakers really want Big Labor to reap a dues windfall of up to $1.35 billion that could (and will) be aimed at them?

Policymakers should also protect the right of workers to operate as independent contractors—what Big Labor’s leftist and rightist allies alike deride as “the gig economy.” From the very beginnings of the Republican Party and conservative movement, these factions have pushed a vision of work that is entrepreneurial and explicitly not based on class struggle. (History podcaster Avi Woolf, who focuses on the Gilded Age in which modern labor and capital matured, has a Twitter thread detailing this thesis.) Meanwhile, organized labor and the Democratic Party which it supports push a collectivist, class-struggle model. Rather than independent entrepreneurs working for themselves according to their own needs, it would prefer union-organized, political-dues-paying “workers” for a Big Corporation, even if the model does not accurately describe the work arrangements the workers would prefer.

Conservatives, on the other hand, must resist this class-conflict model. As I wrote for National Review online earlier this year:

While big business might be cutting deals with the woke mob, the petite bourgeoisie of small entrepreneurs remains staunchly full-spectrum conservative. According to OpenSecrets, 98.22 percent of the contributions from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), a trade group for small and medium-sized businesses, and the reportable contributions from individual staff members went to Republican candidates and party committees in 2022.

When the policy “ball” can be advanced forward, it would behoove conservative policymakers to move it as far as political reality allows. A national right-to-work law is the customary desideratum. The less aggressive Employee Rights Act backed by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) that would limit unions’ ability to use member dues secured from the conservative worker’s dilemma for political and advocacy functions would also be a salutary advancement.

The conservative Holy Grail should be a policy to allow non-union members to decline the “representation” that they do not wish. In contrast, the ostensibly conservative American Compass has inexplicably proposed giving the Service Employees International Union its Holy Grail and the power to compel—excuse me, negotiate on behalf of—millions more unwilling workers through “sectoral bargaining”—an import from French political economy currently being trialed by the SEIU’s political allies in Big Labor’s Golden State.

When discussing sectoral bargaining, I cannot help but revert to the first person, because the union that would presumably negotiate on behalf of writers and think-tank types is one of the worst. The NewsGuild-CWA and its affiliates have in recent years denounced the publication of an op-ed by Compass ally Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), called by implication for the elimination of the State of Israel in a tweet, and targeted a journalist for accurate reporting on George Soros’s political donations. Its parent union, the Communications Workers of America, is no better, being the strongest source of institutional support for the presidential campaigns of socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). I do not trust this institution to represent my social and economic interest. I do not wish to give it the power to purport to do so, and I surely do not wish to pay it for the “privilege” of handing over my autonomy against my will.

American workers should not be compelled to join and pay money (roughly $700–$1,400 per year per worker) to an economic organization that fails to serve their economic interests and to a political organization that fails to serve—and may outright harm—their political interests. Better to stick to advancing voluntarism.

Tightening Government Scrutiny of Labor Organizations

The case for tightening government scrutiny of labor organizations under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act should be obvious to anyone not paid campaign contributions or other labor union favors to turn a blind eye to it. Throughout the history of the Wagner Act labor-relations regime (and even before), labor union officials have proved prone to using members’ dues, pension-fund contributions, and other funds as their personal kitty, when they have not been operating on behalf of organized crime or secretly taking bribes from employers.

The Trump administration, like the George W. Bush administration, attempted to expand the disclosures provided for by the LMRDA to associated trusts, including multi-employer health and pension plans (ironically established pursuant to the Taft-Hartley Act). Recent major union corruption scandals have involved these side-line funds, most notably the scheme by which corrupt Fiat Chrysler executives kept corrupt United Auto Workers officers “fat, dumb, and happy” with kickbacks routed through a union/management training center.

But the mismanagement of member money goes beyond the merely criminal. Indeed, much financial mischief by labor union officials is perfectly legal, and even encouraged by the government. The environmental, social, and governance (ESG) model of using pension funds to advance liberal policies in the corporate boardroom with disregard for its effect on beneficiaries’ rate of return is widely adopted by union trusts. Indeed, CalPERS, the union-directed state-worker pension fund in California, helped pioneer ESG investing in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Prudent policy would further tighten the fiduciary duties of labor officials who govern these investment funds and the managerial-class activists they hire to manage them, preventing them from using union members’ retirement money to pursue political agendas.

In the next installment, the Taft-Hartley consensus has protected the public since 1947.

Michael Watson

Michael is Research Director for Capital Research Center and serves as the managing editor for InfluenceWatch. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, he previously worked for a…
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