This week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case regarding mandatory union dues (Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31), a case that should, if decided in the direction of liberty, extend right-to-work rules (currently the law in 28 states) to the entire nation.

Right-to-work, here, refers to the right of an individual to enter employment without being forced to join a union or pay union dues. Individuals who favor right-to-work argue that no one should be forced to join or support a union if he doesn’t agree with the union’s actions, goals, politics, etc. Unions, and in particular public sector unions where an entire job sector is a monopolistic arrangement between government and the union, argue that, since the compensation offered to a prospective employee has been negotiated and will continue to be negotiated by the union, that prospective employee would be a freeloader if he were not mandated to contribute union dues.

This brings to mind an argument made by people who want heavy government involvement in health care and who demand that the War on Drugs continue. Because society (government, actually) has elected to provide health care to everyone (walk into any emergency room, and you will be treated), they assert that society (government, actually), has the right to manage individuals’ behavior – via prohibition, via taxation, via regulation, and the like. This was also the logic behind the ObamaCare insurance mandate, a mandate that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy questioned, during oral arguments for Obamacare: “Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?”

In modern slang, “bootstrapping” refers to the notion of picking yourself up by your bootstraps. Gentler interpretations equate it to self-starting, or accomplishing something solely with one’s own resources, but a more apt interpretation is that of trying to lift a bucket while standing in it. This is, in essence, what mandatory union dues are. Unions should owe their existence to the desire and good graces of a group of workers, workers who perceive benefit from subordinating their individual rights to an organization that bargains collectively on their behalf. The idea that a union, once in existence, should be able to mandate membership, actual or de-facto via the collection of dues, is the essence of bootstrapping, and is unjustifiable from any perspective that holds individual liberty paramount.

The freeloader problem is probably real enough to make difficulty for the unions, as it is for government’s decision to mandate and underwrite emergency room care, but that is in no way the fault of individuals who avail themselves of conditions they had no hand in establishing. To echo Justice Kennedy, an organization cannot give itself the right to manage the lives of those who don’t want to be part of it. If a union has a freeloader problem, it needs to figure out why those freeloaders don’t want to join the union, and change its ways in order to encourage them to join. Turning to the government to force membership is nothing more than statist thuggery.

The correct outcome for the Janus v AFSCME case is in favor of the plaintiff, who seeks right-to-work for the entire country. Lets hope SCOTUS gets it right.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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