Kazzy’s Unified Theory on Unions



One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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126 Responses

  1. I really wish I had time to comment more because while I’m not as much of an expert on unions as I should be, labor history and business history are two of my specializations and I find the points you bring up fascinating.

    Just a brief drive-by of comments:

    I’m not opposed to workers and employers negotiating compulsory union membership for all employees, provided the compulsory membership is limited to automatic dues checkoff (something like an “agency shop”) and that employees are not subject to union-specific discipline. I understand that this is how union shops work in practice (e.g., the fair share provisions don’t require employees to attend union meetings, only to pay monthly dues), but I wanted to make that clear. This all means that I oppose right-to-work laws, although I also think unions blame those laws for way too much.

    I’m opposed to criminalizing secondary strikes and secondary boycotts, but I would probably support making legally binding “no secondary strike/boycott” clauses in union contracts if such clauses are negotiated. I will say that I generally dislike the attitude that some prounionists adopt wherein they say they refuse to cross any picket line.

    I think strikebreakers ought to have the legal right to cross picket lines (which they do now, as I understand it) and the state has the obligation to protect them. Where pickets become threats or coercion can be a contentious issue and I’m not going to pretend that it’s easy to decide, but I think the state needs to balance maximum freedom of speech rights with maximum rights to choose one’s own calling.Report

    • Also, I think your comments about public sector unions are pretty solid. I’d add that the “customers” served by public sector employees have less of a choice than customers served by private sector employees. If the workers at my local grocery store go on strike, I can go to another store (in part because I’m lucky enough to have a lot of stores in my vicinity). If the DMV goes on strike, I can’t really go to another one. Public universities might be an intermediate point: if the professors go on strike, a student could presumably go to another school, but he or she would have already sunk a lot of costs at that particular institution.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        Another great point.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        You could have a slowdown or a “mostly strike” (with essential things being kept up).Report

      • Another thing to bear in mind with respect to this point is that most union agreements (commonly called memory and that of understanding) that include “no strike “classes also include a requirement that both management and union must negotiate in good faith when the memorandum comes up for renewal. Strikes typically happen when the parties who negotiate a renewal of a memorandum of understanding reach impasse in the negotiation and the union wishes to gain leverage over management. (Management can sometimes achieve similar leverage with a lockout.) it is not clear, absent context, what it means to negotiate in good faith, but typically this involves every new counter offer including concessions towards the other parties position. Those concessions might be small, but they do represent movement towards the center. So if you think this is a good idea, the law is already one step ahead of you. But, you don’t have to think this is a good idea; you might even think it is a bad idea.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      1.) If employees and employers agree to require union membership, so be it.
      2.) If a contract is negotiated such that strikes are barred as a negotiating tactic, so be it. Of course, employees can still resign but, well, they must suffer the consequences (not like all those dumb MLB umpires from a few years back). I’m not entirely sure what “secondary strikes/boycotts” are. Conversely, if a contract is negotiated such that employees can strike but employers cannot hire in their absence, so be it. If it isn’t obvious, I’m willing to let a lot go if it is agreed to by both parties.
      3.) I should probably amend this to say that “strikebreakers” absolutely have every right to cross a picket line and are entitled to state protection (provided there aren’t contracted provisions against hiring during strikes as noted above).

      tl;dr: As I understand your points here, I think I agree with them all 100%.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

        “Secondary strikes”: let’s say the International Brotherhood of Nuclear Technicians, Pastry Chefs, and Jazz Dancers, Local 643, has a memorandum of understanding with Burns Nuclear Power Plant. Its members also are employed by Springfield Bakeries, Inc. Springfield bakeries, in turn, has the contract to provide donuts to the nuclear power plant. The IBNTPCJD reaches impasse in labor negotiations with Springfield Bakeries. Therefore, the union members employed by nuclear power plant go on strike, in an effort to cause Burns to exert leverage on The bakery to resolve the labor dispute in a fashion favorable to the union. Notwithstanding the fact that the union has no actual disagreement with the nuclear power plant at that point in time (accord was reached regarding that troublesome dental plan.) This is a secondary strike.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

        Just to clarify, if an employer agrees to only hire union workers, then they have violated their employment contract if they hire a strike breaker. I agree that this is not allowed, as it violates their end of the contract. I doubt many employers would ever agree to this, but if they do, then they need to live up to their contractual obligations.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        I’m not sure I’d outlaw secondary strikes. I suppose the banding together of different workers at different employers in different industries risks some form of collusion, but I guess I’m okay with that. In a way, it would further empower employees who could make and hold such agreements.

        It also seems unenforceable. The nuclear workers could just make up a reason unrelated to the bakers for their strike. “No more apples in the vending machine, please.”

        I mean, if every worker in America woke up tomorrow and said, “I will not work for less than $10/hour,” would we arrest the entire populace? Wait… let’s not give them any ideas…Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

        Secondary strikes and other secondary collective actions are currently illegal in the U.S. for most industries..Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Kazzy says:

        I can see why people wouldn’t like Secondary Strikes. I can also see how Secondary Strikes showed some Solidarity with those horrible commie Unions fighting against freedom in Poland a few years ago.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        How are such laws enforced?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

        Kazzy, through civil suits, mostly, though the federal government can intervene.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        Using Burt’s analogy, who would be suing whom? The nuclear plant would sue its own employees?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

        The union gets sued, either by employer or employee/member (or, if I’m not mistaken, by the government).Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:

        Just to clarify, if an employer agrees to only hire union workers, then they have violated their employment contract if they hire a strike breaker. I agree that this is not allowed, as it violates their end of the contract. I doubt many employers would ever agree to this, but if they do, then they need to live up to their contractual obligations

        Even in that case, I’d say the state ought to protect the replacement worker from violence. The employers’ abrogation of the contract is on him or her or it (if a corporation).


        You’re right, secondary strikes and boycotts are currently (mostly) illegal. (I would repeal that portion of Taft-Hartley, along with the loyalty oaths and provision that empowers states to enact right to work laws.) When it comes to secondary activity, however, union supporters in practice often engage in it anyway and to my knowledge usually (or at least sometimes) get away with it.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        Even in that every case, I’d say the state ought to protect the replacement workeranyone from violence.”

        Fixed it for ya. No breaking of an employment contract should allow for violence.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:


        Yeah, I opened myself up to that one, and I even thought it while I was writing but left it in. I do think some replacement-worker situations (definitely not all or even most) present singular threats of violence, potentially requiring strong support from the state in addition to its normal obligation to protect everyone from violence. I’m talking mob scenes designed to harass replacement workers.

        How much in evidence are they in these days? In the US, probably not much.

        But again, you’re right. It’s an extension of the state’s general obligation.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        Heh, nah, I knew what you were saying. You are right that there exist situations where an active police presence is necessary. Hostile picket lines definitely qualify.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      I’ve never really understood the point of a lockout. If employees are showing up and doing their jobs at their current wages, isn’t that exactly what the employer wants? Why stop them?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        I think it is about demonstrating power. “You need us more than we need you. We can afford to close. How long can you afford to go without a job?”Report

      • @brandon-berg

        I don’ really understand lockouts, either. I do know that when I grew up Colorado, the two major unionized grocery store chains in Denver would periodically (about every 3 years) have a labor dispute. The workers at one chain would go on strike and the management at the other chain would lockout it’s workers.

        I also suspect that “lockout” is partially a legal construct. In other words, if at some point a business owner continues to decline to negotiate with the strikers, then legally the dispute becomes a “lockout” and the strikers have more of a procedural claim against the employer when it comes to the NLRB. That’s just a guess on my part, however, and even if I’m right in general, I’m probably getting the specifics wrong.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        In sports, “lockout” means that there is no current contract with the players union, and the owners won’t renew the previous contract. In other words, what the employer wants is the same work for lower wages. (Generally, lower wages in the future, since the lockout doesn’t invalidate existing contracts, other than no one getting paid if the games aren’t played.)Report

  2. Avatar Roger says:

    I agree with a caveat. I would use the phrase “should be free to” as opposed to the word “right”.

    I have no beef with collective bargaining. Seems wise in some situations. My beef is when either party uses coercion, threats of coercion or special privilege.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    One problem is that it is generally in the interest of the employer to negotiate each contract individually. When there is an imbalance of power between employer and employee, individually negotiated contracts secure the best deal for them. Required collective bargaining is the only way to prevent this in some cases.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq says:

      And in some it is not. To some degree, if people work themselves into more powerful positions, we can’t insist that they sacrifice all power. I recognize “work” is doing some heavy lifting there.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Not sure how you jumped from collective bargaining can be better for workers (which seems logical in some cases but not all) to “required” collective action.

      I would recommend collective action be a freedom, not a requirement. Big difference,Report

    • Avatar Patrick in reply to LeeEsq says:

      When there is an imbalance of power between employer and employee, individually negotiated contracts secure the best deal for them.

      I can agree with this or not, depending upon what you mean by “imbalance of power”.

      There is an imbalance of power between people in my position and my employer, but the mere presence of an imbalance of power doesn’t mean it’s leveraged. In addition, in our case, individually negotiated contracts also secure the best deal for the better workers in my position and my employer… because our skill sets are squishy.

      I get paid more than some people that do my job. I should be; I’m better at it than they are. More experience, advanced degrees, too… but there are people who do my job who are better at it that I am that don’t even have a college degree. I would find a negotiated pay schedule to be unjust in practice, because most of the likely measurable targets (time on the job, degree/certification/etc) that would be used to differentiate pay would have little to no correlation to quality of employee on the ground.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Patrick says:

        A lot of people want nothing to do with unions. To go out on a limb and attempt to speak for the group (thus in effect speaking only for myself), the primary concern is the reverse of the free rider problem that Mark and North allude to.

        Twenty percent of the people add eighty percent of the value. The eighty percent know this and fear that the twenty percent will out earn them, raise expectations and make them look bad. Thus they form a collective which stresses solidarity and seniority rather than individual performance, hard work, value added, creativity or risk taking. On average, we get higher wages for less work, but the top performers are held down in both wage and output.

        The self starters often want nothing to do with the collective. They run from unions.

        That said, it is an exaggeration, and I know of some extremely hard working types who are not just pro union but members of the union board.

        Freedom of choice works fine for me.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Patrick says:

        “I would find a negotiated pay schedule to be unjust in practice, because most of the likely measurable targets (time on the job, degree/certification/etc) that would be used to differentiate pay would have little to no correlation to quality of employee on the ground.”

        Then talented employees who are deserving of higher wages but do not receive them should find an employer willing to look beyond on-paper requirements.

        This is largely how I feel. It seems that people are saying that better employees should be stopped from being better employees because of the effect on worse employees. What?!?! If so many people opt out of the union because they can be better employees without it — work harder, earn more, etc. — than it will not only incentivize this behavior, but it will improve the company. Why should we block that?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Patrick says:

        hard work is a lot easier to come by than creativity.
        We could, if we wanted, train and teach for creativity.
        … but, mrfl, that would piss off pretty much everyone.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Patrick says:

        I am familiar with the various writings by people peddling creativity that anyone can be trained to be creative. My experience is that these people are selling hope and dreams. They are telling people what they want to hear.

        Certainly people can be trained to be more creative, and more importantly, groups and institutions can be used to leverage creativity.

        That said, my experience is that a small number of people are creative geniuses and are responsible for a huge share of the innovation of any given group or firm.Report

    • @leeesq

      I don’t disagree, but I think it’s a question of context. The low-paid retail worker or the person on the assembly line or in a sweatshop has precious little power to “negotiate” their own working conditions in most meaningful ways (and even then, it might depend on the management and the local labor market….I’m not arguing that even the lesser skilled workers are powerless).

      I don’t think I mentioned this in my comments above, but I am not entirely ready to reject compulsory “good faith” bargaining when a majority of workers votes to negotiate a union,* and the reason why is the power imbalance in at least some cases. (I’m leaving aside other union validation schemes like “card check” and I’m also leaving aside the very real questions about the growing ineffectiveness of the NLRB and about the way employers in practice abuse “good faith” terms.)

      Obviously, “not entirely ready to reject” is a pretty tepid endorsement, but I mean it sincerely. I’m not entirely ready to do away with it exactly because of the power imbalance. I’m uncomfortable with the compulsory negotiations because it’s hard to isolate cases where lesser skilled workers are seeking on-the-job representation and situations like the one Patrick describes where traditional style work rules might harm some of the employees.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I’ve never seen “imbalance of power” explained in a way that makes it sound like anything other than a dysphemism for supply and demand working exactly the way they’re supposed to.Report

  4. I’m pretty much on-board with all of this.Report

  5. Avatar North says:

    I don’t have a problem with it in general though there is a huge free rider problem. In essence it’s in each individual employees collective interest to have a union bargaining up their wages and working conditions while it’s in their individual interests to not be a member of said union so they can get the benefits without paying union dues etc… Somewhat like vaccination free riding: parents worried about the (infinitesimal astonishingly low) dangers of vaccinations are best off if everyone vaccinates but are (very very slightly) better off if they individually do not vaccinate.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to North says:

      Some questions, North.

      Why do there need to be union dues?

      Why are they so high that workers fail to see the benefits?

      Couldn’t the negotiation with the employer require that the expenses which the fees currently are earmarked toward be paid by the employer? For example, the negotiation is for a paid full time independent labor representative (paid by outside consulting firm XYZ). Now you have no fees, and thus no free riding.

      Is it possible to negotiate so that the benefit only goes to those in the union? Seems like a possibility in some cases.

      I guess I fundamentally question the paradigm. Seems freedom and human ingenuity could solve this on a case by case basis.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Roger says:

        I’ll try and answer Roger, note I have little expertise with unions.

        Union dues pay the costs of the union which are non-zero.

        Any union due that is greater than zero then generates a benefit for the worker if they can escape paying it.

        Potentially, sure, maybe they do. I haven’t heard of such a thing but then I’m not enormously familiar with the state of unions beyond a general understanding they’ve been in decline for quite a while.

        Possibly, but since employers (all else being equal) prefer non-unionized workers to unionized ones it behooves them to pay union rates even to non-unionized employees otherwise it generates incentive for their employees to join the union.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger says:

        Hmm… If the employer doesn’t have much influence on who gets to be union chief, i’m fine with the employer footing the bill for the union.
        (More than fine, in fact. Unions do good work functioning as independent oversight for corrupt/lazy management — and that’s useful for your CEO).Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger says:

        Kazzy is laying out a normative claim of how unions should work in his opinion, not how they do work today. I am just exploring extending the paradigm.

        Voluntary agreements between the collective and the employer can require the employer to fund whatever both parties agree to. They could fund the union boss, they could fund the out of work strike fund (for union members only) and such.

        This seems to me to eliminate or at least mitigate the free rider problem. Coercion is not the only solution.

        Of course, I have spent exactly three minutes thinking through the issue, so I may be missing a lot. Interesting thought exercise….Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Roger says:

        Err.. who suggesting coercion?Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger says:

        Apparently nobody. ;^)Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Roger says:

        To me requiring employers to fund the unions is about the same as requiring employers to pay workers more, at least inasmuch as it’s an added expense to the employer. (I’m leaving aside here the issue of whether the employer can choose how the money is spent and I’m assuming under the “employer pays” scheme, the union would decide.)

        In principle I don’t see it as much different from a situation where a union, say, negotiates a general 5% raise and exacts dues equal to, say, 2%. Under such an agreement, workers get higher wages and part of that raise goes to the organization designated to pay for it.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger says:

        The added benefit is that it eliminates free riding on that dimension.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to North says:

      Would non-union employees necessarily get union negotiated wages? The employer would have every right to say, “You’re on your own, man. Take THIS deal instead or walk.”Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Kazzy says:

        I’m far from an expert on the subject but my understanding is that employers typically pay non-union members similarily to how they pay union members. It cuts down on discontent and employers generally prefer non union members.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Kazzy says:

        In my experience, non-union employees tend to enjoy a certain level of parity with union pay & some benefits, but not all. Of course, non-union employees may enjoy other benefits denied to union employees (such as flex time, comp time, work from home, etc.).Report

  6. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    What you’ve articulated, @kazzy , are roughly the principles that guide union-management negotiations in “right to work” states. You may want to consider whether unions are entitled to collect service fees from nonunion employees who nevertheless received Union scale compensation. If it were provable that those employees would not have received compensation at that level absent the union’s involvement, is the union entitled to compensation from nonunion employees who enjoy those benefits, to partially defray the costs incurred in collective bargaining?Report

  7. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with this per se, but I suspect that giving an individual employee a “right” to negotiate without an existing union would signal the end of unions.Report

    • I wouldn’t go quite as far as saying it would be the “end of unions”; however, it’s effectively a description of “right to work” laws, and those laws have clearly and significantly accelerated the decline of unions in states that have adopted them.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Well I recognize that “right to work” laws have a newspeak style name, I personally would be bothered if I was required to join a union to gain employment. Especially if I thought I would do better outside the union (i.e., Michelle Rhee’s plan).Report

      • The thing is that the reason unions negotiate “union shop” arrangements is that otherwise it creates a massive free-rider problem – the union negotiates the wages, which set a baseline that directly benefits all workers in the company; to bar such arrangements largely undermines the entire purpose of collective bargaining – the union does the work to set a baseline initially, which benefits people who opt out in order to get higher wages. But once enough people opt out of the union to do that, eventually there’s no union of any significance to negotiate that baseline.

        Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have a problem if a union is willing to negotiate a deal that doesn’t create a “union shop.” But enshrining a ban of “union shop” agreements (which is what giving an individual employee a “right” to negotiate without the existing union does) into law is a huge problem, particularly in the long run.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        If enough employees opt out of the union because they think they can get a better deal on their own, then the union is not meeting their needs. They should not be mandated by law to maintain such an arrangement.

        I mean, here is how I see it. Company A is in need of a Widget Maker. Joe is a good Widget Maker. He shows up at Company A and says, “I’d like to be your Widget Maker.” Company A is required to say, “You seem like a good Widget Maker, Joe. And per our conversation, your salary expectations are in line with what we are willing to pay this position. Unfortunately, you and I cannot come to an agreement. We are required by law to involve a third party, even if neither you or I want to.”

        You don’t see that as problematic?

        If unions can’t stand on their own without special protections, than they should not stand.Report

      • @kazzy The thing is that if they negotiate a “union shop” agreement with an employer, that is very much them standing on their own. Prohibiting such agreements, which is what “right to work” laws do, prevents them from standing on their own.

        You’re ignoring the long run here at the expense of the short-run. If “union shop” agreements are prohibited, then the employer can easily enough kill off the union by offering employees higher wages – but only if they renounce the union. Then, once the union is killed off, the employer can just erase all of those gains through layoffs, pay cuts, etc.

        You’re also ignoring the massive free rider problem here – in the proposed scenario, you’re not really negotiating for yourself; instead, you’re taking advantage of what the union has already negotiated and then seeking to obtain more without the union obtaining anything from you for its efforts. If the union’s ok with that and forgoes the opportunity to negotiate a “union shop” agreement, then that’s fine and that’s their own risk; but if the union wants to negotiate an agreement whereby the employer will only hire members of the union in order to prevent this free rider problem, then it should be able to.

        Think about it this way – there’s no difference between a “union shop” agreement and a “sole provider” contract in other contexts. Why should we prohibit union shop agreements but be perfectly ok with agreements where a company agrees with one of its suppliers that it will only obtain its raw materials from that particular supplier? What if the agreement is between a company and an employment agency under which the company agrees that it will only hire employees who come through the employment agency? What is the difference between this hypothetical employment agency and a union?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        I would allow the union shop agreement if it was made between the employer and employee. So if Company A and the Widget Maker Guild agree that the former will only hire members of the latter over a 25 year period, I would not object to that. If Company A wants to retain the ability to hire non-guild members and refuses to agree to that provision and the Guild seeks the government to force as much, I disagree.

        If I was unclear on my willingness to allow such agreements between the interested parties, my apologies.

        If the employer and employee agree to tell all non-guild members to sign up or step out, so be it.Report

      • @kazzy

        If enough employees opt out of the union because they think they can get a better deal on their own, then the union is not meeting their needs. They should not be mandated by law to maintain such an arrangement

        I know you clarified your point to mark, but I want to emphasize something here (and I think I’m right, if not, teh lawyerz here can correct me). In states that don’t have right to work laws, the law doesn’t “mandate” such an arrangement. It merely says that a duly negotiated arrangement that requires union membership can be legally enforced.

        (I do think there’s a potential issue of the law “mandating” such arrangements if, for example, the requirement that employer negotiate in good faith includes as a standard of good faith agreement to a union shop, then that would be a way of mandating the arrangements. I don’t think that’s the state of affairs now, although I’m not sure about the 1930s-1960s, when the NLRB had more teeth and was better supported by the executive branch. Now, a company can sometimes simply meet with the negotiator, say “we reject your offer,” leave, and call it a “good faith meeting. And my understanding is that in such cases, it’s very difficult to challenge the company’s actions.)Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Is the quibble with the word “right”?Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      See my questions on this paradigm, above , Mark.Report

  8. Avatar Damon says:

    5.) Union membership cannot be required by law. Union membership can be required by the employer.

    This is going to result in the union negotating with the employer to make the company a “union shop” requiring future employees to join the union. Hell no.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Damon says:

      So you think the state should bar unions from negotiating with employers to establish closed shops Damon?Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Damon says:

      If the workers are so empowered, such it is.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Damon says:

      Amazing how some folks’ belief in the freedom of contract disappears the second the word “union” gets thrown about.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Damon says:

      Actually @damon , this is totally fine. The trouble comes when the state enforces a rule that any company that negotiates with a union becomes a union shop, regardless of what the employer & union have negotiated.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Damon says:


      Where is the problem? If a company agrees to these terms then it should abide by them, no?

      Are you concerned this will lead to the demise of the company? If so, let’s let their leadership (and the employees self regard) worry about that.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Roger says:

        I’m all for the employer deciding it’s a closed shop of their own accord, but agreeing to a union demand to close the shop is another thing. That then makes any future workers required to join the union. Where the choice in that? If the employer and union say to the new employee “you’re free to join the union and if you do, this is what you get, ie work rules, wages, etc., but if you chose not to join, this is what you get, etc. I’m cool with that. But that wasn’t a scenario outlined.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Roger says:

        What is your feeling about companies agreeing to sole provider contracts? What if the good for which they are contracting someone as sole provider is an employment agency? How does that differ from a “closed shop” agreement?

        They’re not saying so much that future employees have to join the union as they are agreeing to only hire union members in the future. That’s a subtle distinction, perhaps, but it’s an important one.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Roger says:


        So an employer can close shop, but only if it wasn’t first requested by the union?Report

    • Avatar Dave in reply to Damon says:

      This is going to result in the union negotating with the employer to make the company a “union shop” requiring future employees to join the union. Hell no.

      It seems perfectly consistent with the freedom of contract.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Damon says:

      Closed shops are illegal in the U.S. as well, of course, from the same statutes that make secondary actions illegal.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Chris says:

        Yeah, I am fine with sympathetic strikes as well.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Chris says:


        You’re right about the closed shop. My main quibbles are two.

        One, people sometimes use “closed shop” to mean what we understand as “union shop” (that’s how Damon appears to be using it). As a sometimes labor historian, this bothers me to no end, although I suspect that the terms “union shop” and “closed shops” are as much legal and historical distinctions arising from the post-Wagner Act administrative rules and the Taft-Hartley distinctions.

        Two, I understand that in some industries, say, longshore work, workers find their jobs, and employers their workers, through union-run hiring halls, a situation that (if I understand it right, and I might not) strikes me as potentially very close to a closed shop.Report

  9. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Maybe I’m being naive, but it seems to me that people are underestimating the ability of employees to provide unique value to their companies. If the entire faculty of my school banded together and said, “We have a specific set of demands and none of us will sign our contracts if they are not met, ” the school would be hard pressed to not at least sit down at the table with us. Were they to let us all work and attempt to replace 60+ faculty members and offer the same quality of product… well, I’m not confident they could do that. Not because we are individually irreplaceable but, together, we provide enormous value. Not just as teachers, but because of our institutional knowledge, awareness of the company culture, etc.

    Not every shop can do this. But probably more than most people realize. The problem is getting everyone on board. If you can’t do this, well, I don’t peg that as the employer’s problem.Report

    • Avatar Dave in reply to Kazzy says:

      It’s an interesting comment, but it doesn’t apply at all in the low-wage, low-skill sector of the labor market, the part of the labor market where unionization efforts are strongest. I don’t see this as a mere coincidence.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Dave says:


        I pretty much agree. Even in low-waged and lesser skilled jobs, workers have perhaps more power as individuals than they realize, but collective action is perhaps much more necessary to achieve certain goals in those industries.

        I’ll add another thing that perhaps is only tangentially relevant but I think is important. A lot of discussion goes on here and in general about wages and hours as the subject of negotiation. That’s probably because those do tend to occupy most people’s view of what unions do or should do or shouldn’t do. It’s related as a term of monetary cost.

        But another advantage to having union representation is against arbitrary treatment on the job, a requirement that disciplines be rationalized and for cause and not at the whim of the employer. That can be invaluable, especially in situations where the represented employee has fewer skills. It can also have its perverse consequences, too. I’m not denying that nor that sometimes in the bargain it might be better to go union-less. But having an organization, through a formalized process, be there to stand up for you can be empowering. It’s not all about wages.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Kazzy says:

      With regard to a Closed Shop, ideally if the membership was unhappy with the union, they would agitate to change it. If an individual was, they could just leave & find better work elsewhere, or (as is often done these days), get hired as a contractor.

      In reality, the operation of unions tends to protect the union bosses & the senior membership at the expense of the juniors (not always, but often). At my old employer, where the engineers are unionized, this practice had the side effect of driving out a lot of junior engineers (it’s a known problem, with younger engineers leaving at or about 5 years). A big reason why is because the junior engineers, while they may have a vote, do not have a voice & are typically ignored (unless they parrot the approved narrative).

      I suppose at some point the union will have to evolve or risk being de-certified (a rather obtuse process, as I understand it).Report

  10. Avatar Kolohe says:

    on number 6, “However, the employee retains the right to insist on negotiating individually with the employee absent union representation.”

    I’m guessing that one word that’s ’employee’ should be ’employer’. Which one it is actually matters in whether or not I agree with this proposition.Report

  11. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I’m largely with LeeEsq, Burt, Mark, and North on the issues of collective bargaining and the free rider problem in “right to work” states which you correctly note is a great example of right-wing Orwellian New Speak.

    Unions vs non-unions is a highly ideological battle than it probably never going to be solved. It seems to be a constant fight between ideologies. It reminds me of an argument from a while ago when the liberals and libertarians were arguing about what ended child labor. The liberal argued that it was unions and activism raising awareness and the libertarians (mainly Roger) argued that it was technological advancements that merely rendered child labor ineffecient. In the end neither side made any concessions and we argued until blue in the face and I think I posted the opinion of a friend with a PhD in economics who argued that it was largely human action and law that ended child labor and caused businesses to become efficient and Roger still disagreed.

    It seems like this is one (of many) issue where people are stuck in the ideological worldviews and nothing causes any budging or concessions.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to NewDealer says:

      And an actual economist on this site agreed with me while your mystery economist failed to show up to defend your supposed representation of his views. Bad form, ND.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Roger says:

        My friend has a PhD from UCLA and is not a member of his this site. I e-mailed him priviately and this is not a strawman

        He doesn’t have to come here. Is there anything in the world that can convince you that you are wrong on anything? You must be pleasant person to live with.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger says:

        Yea, a good argument. Try it.

        Not, “I talked to some guy who is an expert and trust me he agrees with me even though you and the actual economist that does represent his own views on this site disagree with me.”Report

  12. Avatar NewDealer says:

    @roger and everyone else:

    Here is what I wrote to my friend:

    “This is a from a constant debate I seem to get into with libertarians.

    It is about child labor and various other evil practices from the Industrial revolution.

    Libertarians seem fond of arguing that laws against things like child labor are unnecessary because the market and technological innovation made various liberal legislation unregulated.

    I find this to be a convenient argument to say the least. My argument is generally that necessity is the mother of innovation and liberal regulations against child labor and other unsafe practices (see Triangle shirtwaist fire) made the market become more efficient by removing an easily exploited group from the labor market.

    So. Who’s right? How would you counter the child labor argument as an economist?”

    This was his response:

    “In a way, you both are. If it helps, you’re more right. 😛

    If perfect competition existed, frictionless markets, perfect and free information, no bargaining power and so on and so forth, then yeah, self regulation would work. Bad practices would be driven out very quickly.

    As it is, unions exist to counterbalance the bargaining power of owners, but most labor isn’t unionized. Markets fail and that’s when there’s a place for the government. So if we value a minimum standard of anything, for example safety, then it’s likely up to the government to set it and let companies operate in the constrained world.

    You’re both probably a bit delusional about how perfect markets are, but that’s what the division is rooted in.

    And so you know, debating libertarians isn’t even something that I’ll bother with. They don’t adjust their beliefs and you won’t either, so there’s no point.”Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

      A PhD using emoticons? What has the world come to?Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to NewDealer says:

      Can I send biased summaries of your arguments to the PHD of my choice and use it to get you to agree?Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to NewDealer says:

      And for the record I have never, ever supported child labor or “other evil practices”.

      Let me be really, really clear, ND. This is a low blow. Way below the belt. It is so far outside of the expected level of discourse at this blog as to be shocking.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Roger says:

        I am going to ask that this whole line of discussion cease. It is unproductive and beneath both of you.Report

      • Avatar Dave in reply to Roger says:

        Actually I would like to address ND’s point. However, I am having a hard time seeing where anyone was accused of supporting child labor. It was a question of appropriate levels of regulations.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger says:

        Thank you, Kazzy.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Roger says:


        If people want to discuss the role of unions in ending child labor, I’m okay with that. If they want to just sling mud, I’m not.Report

      • Avatar Dave in reply to Roger says:

        @roger ,

        Where did he say that?

        @kazzy ,


      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Roger says:


        I probably confused it with the child labor issue and this is my fault. My main point was probably on cognition and what Jonathan Haidt talks about. People (myself included) come to their conclusions first and then work backwards to find the evidence/reasoning to varying degrees. I was mainly commenting on why these seem to be never ending back and fourths without concessions or victories.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger says:

        Good point, but I will remind everyone this is on a post written by a moderate liberal (Kazzy), where a classical liberal (me) agrees pretty much across the board with everything written. I also agree completely on the issue of child labor and evil practices (I am against both).

        There are certainly issues where we disagree, and will continue to disagree. This is often due either to different assumptions or value weights. A partial solution to this dilemma is to try to build systems which are flexible enough to handle multiple value sets, or which allow experimentation, feedback and choice. Thus the institutions and values can work together as an algorithm to learn and evolve over time.

        In other words, argumentation only goes so far. Eventually we need to try to implement our mental constructs into the real world. There are imperfect techniques to do so flexibly and adaptively.

        And with that comment I am done arguing.

        Adios, amigos.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Roger says:


        Can you give me an “in a nutshell” breakdown on what it means to be a classical liberal? I generally eschew labels but don’t think describing me as a “moderate liberal” is unfair. You and I agree on some things, disagree on others. I’m curious what it is that makes me a “moderate” liberal and you a “classical” liberal.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Roger says:


        I can’t speak for Roger, but I’ll say first that I consider you a “moderate liberal” in the sense that you tend (from what I can gather) support many policies that are considered liberal, but are open-minded enough to question them. In other words, you’re not an extremist. You’re also moderate, for example, in you position on unions, where you don’t adopt a “all unions are good and can do almost no wrong approach.” So speaking for myself only, “moderate liberal” in my lexicon is a compliment.

        I think “classical liberal” is actually an apple to the “moderate liberal” orange (sorry about the cliche). Your “moderate liberalism” is in the context of a liberalism in terms of how it’s usually identified today: some support for the welfare state and perhaps state coordination of unions, support for more racial, gender, religious, and sexual-orientation equality, and probably a mix of other things that economically had their origin in the New Deal and Great Society and socially in the Civil Rights movements since the 1950s.

        Roger’s “classical liberalism” is, as I understand it, something like what you and I might at first blush consider libertarianism: a belief in freer markets and also a respect for racial, gender, religious, and sexual-orientation equality, but perhaps with less emphasis on programs like affirmative action and wealth transfers and more emphasis on removing impediments emanating from the state (e.g., Jim Crow segregation, anti-sodomy laws, etc.).

        “Classical liberalism” is often called 19th-century liberalism because those who tended in the 19th century to call themselves liberals (or who in retrospect we tend to call liberals in that era) favored most of these things. However, many of them, I imagine (I haven’t read much of them) probably balked at remedying some of the social inequities like Jim Crow and anti-gay prejudice and restrictions against women. (I stand to be surprised on that score….again, I haven’t read much of them and some of them, such as J.S. Mill , and I’d include Mary Wollstonecraft among them, did argue, e.g., for something like gender equality.)

        It’s also important to remember that 19th century liberals may have seen themselves as disciples of Adam Smith and supported his prescriptions for freer trade (and fewer arbitrary state-imposed impediments to the economy), but at least the better reflective among them in the 19th-century, especially the late 19th century, realized that the US economy then was in many ways not a “liberal economy,” with high tariffs and huge government subsidies to railroads and to capitalists (the latter often evident in the use of soldiers to break strikes, although in my opinion we have to keep in mind the state’s obligation to protect replacement workers.)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Roger says:


        Thanks. I definitely didn’t mean to imply that I took the “moderate liberal” label as an insult. But this was very helpful.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger says:

        Yeah, just to add on, I think the Wikipedia article is a good background:


        I would separate it from current liberalism/leftism/progressivism primary on the limitations placed on the role of the state. A classical liberal would lean more toward individual problem solving than centralized or state driven solutions.

        Another important difference is on the relative importance of freedom vs equality of outcome. I lean much more toward freedom and those on left more toward equality, especially of outcome (I would argue that inequality of outcome is good and necessary and that too much emphasis on equal outcomes must limit freedom and decentralized problem solving).

        I think most Americans would refer to my beliefs as moderate libertarianism. Someone?? did a guest post last year and listed the core beliefs necessary to be a libertarian. I did not qualify on any of them (I disagreed with all core assumptions). I am certainly not an anarchist. I certainly do not believe liberty trumps other values, nor that it is a divine natural right (that word again). Indeed I find extreme libertarians (Rand and Rothbard and most anarchists) kind of wacky.

        Famous people whose views I often agree with include Milton Friedman, Hayek and Mises.Report

    • Avatar Dave in reply to NewDealer says:

      So if we value a minimum standard of anything, for example safety, then it’s likely up to the government to set it and let companies operate in the constrained world.

      To me, it’s not a function of setting a minimum standard. It is another way to address the power imbalance between labor and management, especially in hazardous working environments where 1) there is a high potential for injury and 2) absent regulation, there is little incentive by management to pay close attention to safety because either workers are replaceable or, my preferred explanation, that management is incentivized to act in a negligent, if not grossly negligent, manner with respect to safety because the odds of individual workers having the means to get compensation for their injuries, even if the company is at fault, is slim to none. For me, (2) is the big driver for workplace safety regulations.

      It doesn’t mean I’m for any and all regulations (as if I even have to say that), but something that addresses these issues is something I would seriously consider.Report

    • Interesting. You’re friend just called you and a bunch of us he’s never met closed-minded.

      Economist, heal thyself.

      (First, assume I’m open-minded…)Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer says:

      You friend makes the same points I’ve made over and over, so he’s obviously a very smart guy.Report

    • Avatar Patrick in reply to NewDealer says:

      In a way, you both are.

      This is basically equivalent to, “You’re both right and wrong”, which on cases is pretty much how I see it. Sometimes Roger’s right, sometimes you are. It depends.Report

  13. Avatar LWA says:

    Kazzy’s outline displays, for me, the weakness of only framing things in terms of rights.
    We seem to all agree that “rights” are not absolute, and can morally be limited, hedged, and modified in relation to each other.
    So the real question becomes what our desired outcome of policy is.
    Which requires us in turn to define what our priorities and values are.
    This would provide us with a useful framework to determine what about each right needs to be modified and limited.

    For instance, do we desire that we want to maximize the autonomy of the individual, even if this results in a massive imbalance of wealth and power?

    Or do we value the even distribution of power and wealth, to where we are willing to curtail the individual’s right to negotiate?

    In order to reach consensus on values, there needs to be some sense that we share ownership of the outcome- that we share a vision of what we want “our” society to become.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to LWA says:


      This is a really good point. My theory here is based on maximizing the liberty of the individual. At times, this leads to outcomes I consider undesirable. There is an inherent tension there… one not easily resolved.Report

    • Avatar LWA in reply to LWA says:

      Oftentimes its tempting to define a desirable outcome as a “right”, so as to create a shield against counterargument- but its also true that rights themselves only exist to the degree we all collectively agree to enforce them, and for the purpose that we all collectively agree they should serve.

      This is disconcerting I know. Reading political arguments, it often seems like people are searching for some line of logic that is so powerful, so compelling, that resistance becomes impossible.
      Yet there really isn’t.

      The boundaries of rights, the demarcation line where they give way to another priority, changes over time.
      Yesterday we enjoyed the free speech right to say “n***er”, while homosexual love was not covered by the constitution- todays it is the opposite.

      What changed? More importantly, what will change tomorrow? Are my rights so ephemeral as to rely solely on the whims of the community?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to LWA says:


        First off, people still have every right to say “n***er”. There might be greater consequences because of societal shifts, but it is no more a crime today than it was 100 or 200 years ago.

        Second, what I’ve outlined here isn’t aimed at any particular outcome beyond maximizing individual liberty. I think it achieves that as is or with slight adjustments. I think that is a desirable goal, at least as far as employment and labor are concerned.

        There are other areas where I think outcomes other than maximizing individual liberty are preferred and espouse different ideas as a result.Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to LWA says:

        Why is maximizing individual liberty of employment and labor a priority?

        Richard Sennet, in his book “The Culture of The New Capitalism” talks about the rise of the industrial policy of the 20th Century, tracing it to the desire of governments and capitalists to use security and societal cohesion as a way of warding off revolution and disfunction.

        Essentially, New Deal-esque limitations on private contract and individual liberty provided agency and freedom to the middle class workers, by removing the spectre of alienation and financial catastrophe. Work was what allowed individuals to create a meaningful purpose and relationship to their larger community.

        Around the same time, Catholic social teaching beginning with Rerum Novarum in 1890 also defined work as not merely an economic transaction, but as the very essence of what makes us human- the fruit of our labor is intrinsic to creating meaningful lives.

        If we maximize liberty, aren’t we also maximizing risk? Why would this be a beneficial outcome? Do we admire risk taking as leading to positive benefits to society, or simply as a way of maximizing personal gain?
        What does this mean then, in terms of how we view work and how work relates to society?

        In other words, is there still a shared understanding of the value of work, that hard work is something that has intrinsic value, to be admired and emulated? Or instead, are we striving to create a world where in Woody Guthrie’s words, “the workin’ man is poor, and the gamblin’ man is rich?”Report