A long time ago in a sub-thread at one of my guest posts Over There, Brandon Berg raised in the comments an interesting question about unions (in particular about conscience exemptions for union dues and the free-rider problem that union shop provisions are meant to resolve):
I’m not sure I understand the free rider problem. Why can’t unions negotiate for their members, and only for their members? Is there some regulation that requires the unions to negotiate for all employees regardless of membership, or is the idea that simply having the union negotiate wages for its members somehow makes it easier for non-members to negotiate higher wages?
Personally, of course, I don’t see the free-rider problem as a problem at all—the government shouldn’t be in the business of making it easier to form cartels
What you describe is how it works in New Zealand. Union membership is voluntary but the union only negotiates on behalf of its membership, and will only represent its members in other forms of labour dispute. There are a couple of other differences as well, like only union members can strike.
This seems to be an entirely adequate solution to nay free-rider issues.
At the time, I filed it under “interesting things I don’t know much about.” I still don’t know much about it, but I recently ran across a book that addresses Brandon’s and James K.’s points in the American context. It’s The Blue Eagle at Work: Reclaiming Democratic Rights in the American Workplace, by Charles J. Morris (2005). His argument seems to be that our current labor law, initiated by the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (Wagner Act) and amended subsequently, permits the situation Brandon and James K. describe, at least in some instances. His claims that few since the 1930s have recognized that fact, but he hopes that union supporters will endorse partial representation contracts (my term, I forget which he uses) as a step toward full-shop unionization.
I’ve read only the introduction, so there’s a lot I presume is missing from my synopsis of his argument. And I can’t speak to whether he’s right or not. But I thought I’d bring it up, especially in light of our recent discussion of minimum wage exemptions for union contracts.
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