We’re hearing a lot in recent discussions of Wisconsin’s government workers’ unions about how newly elected Governor Scott Walker plans to limit or end the unions’ collective bargaining rights. Here is a discussion by an opponent of Walker’s move that, as far as I can tell, gets the facts right. Except for one thing. It’s not about rights. It’s about power.

Almost everyone on both sides of the debate uses the term “collective bargaining rights” to mean the right of a union to bargain with an employer who must, by law, bargain in good faith. It also includes the right of a union to negotiate even for employees who don’t want to be members of the union and don’t want to pay dues to the union. So “collective bargaining rights” really mean the power to force others–to pay the dues and/or to join the union and/or to give up their power to negotiate with an employer. So the alleged right is really the “right” to monopolize the supply of labor to an employer. That’s a phony right, not a real right. It’s really a power.

Interestingly, even many economists who defend union monopoly power, recognize that it is monopoly power. Harvard economists and union defenders Richard Freeman and James Medoff, for instance, wrote, “Most, if not all, unions have monopoly power, which they can use to raise wages above competitive levels.”

Economist Morgan Reynolds, who wrote the article on labor unions for the Concise Encyclopedia writes:

Many unions have won higher wages and better working conditions for their members. In doing so, however, they have reduced the number of jobs available in unionized companies. That second effect occurs because of the basic law of demand: if unions successfully raise the price of labor, employers will purchase less of it. Thus, unions are a major anticompetitive force in labor markets. Their gains come at the expense of consumers, nonunion workers, the jobless, taxpayers, and owners of corporations.