If the progressives best argument against Scott Walker’s support for legislation that would prohibit non-union workers from having to pay union fees is that his move his motivated by the 2016 election, then they don’t have much of an argument. Today the Republican governor of Wisconsin signed a right-to-work bill into law. The law prevents organized labor from assessing union fees on non-union members.
Unions and their progressive supporters are up in arms claiming that Mr. Walker is motivated to support the legislation in order to further establish his conservative bona fides with Republicans should he pursue the GOP nomination for president. Progressives are also concerned that by reducing an underwriting stream for unions, collective bargaining may find itself heading faster toward dodo bird status.
For the individual taking an entrepreneurial approach to his labor, right to work laws reduce the cost constraints she faces when delivering labor in exchange for compensation. Why should she have to reduce the amount of her take home pay in order to subsidize a mechanism that acts as a bottleneck to hiring labor? Union demands result in increased labor costs for employers and this has a negative impact on labor. Why? Because is the cost of employing human resources gets too high, employers will opt for more technology, especially technology that needs less himan resources to operate it.
In addition, Mr. Walker’s actions help to expand the pool of available labor. Resource expansion should be one of the primary goals of government and by making it less costly for labor to come to the market and sell its services to employers, Mr. Walker’s actions helps government meet that obligation and brings value to all society instead of a limited set of progressive self interests.
We also have to stop living in the past when it comes to the role of labor unions. They have been living on vapor, riding a glorious past filled with triumphs that brought better working conditions to the workplace.
But that was yesterday. Thanks to advocacy by unions and other groups, today we have laws and rules that govern an employer’s obligation to provide a safe physical working environment for employees. There are laws and regulations defining minimum wage for private sector and government employees, record keeping, and child labor.
If unions want to continue playing a significant role for labor in society, it should change its business model. Rather than trying to play economic bottleneck in the labor market, it should change its business model to that of a clearinghouse of information on how labor can better prepare itself for the work demands of the 21st century. The labor markets are changing. Producers and capital are demanding a flexible labor force that is more freelance or entrepreneurial as employers attempt to further lessen their labor costs. Laws won’t be the final undoing of labor unions. It will be their inability to adjust and stay relevant in a changing world.