Freedom of Association: What Noam Scheiber Misses
By David Henderson
In an otherwise excellent reporting piece in the New Republic, Senior Editor Noam Scheiber gives his view about why the governor’s race in Wisconsin is so important. To recap, Governor Scott Walker is running for reelection and he’s the one who took on the teachers union a few years ago.
Walker achieved conservative icon status by gutting collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions and preventing the unions from automatically deducting dues from members’ paychecks. The law he signed triggered a backlash from Democrats across Wisconsin and ultimately led to an attempted recall in 2012, while also causing the state’s public unions to hemorrhage members.
But did Walker gut collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions? No, he did not. He gutted some of their power. There is no such thing as a right to bargain collectively unless those who are represented want to be represented and those with whom they want to bargain want to bargain with them. What Scheiber misses is that what Walker really did is uphold freedom of association for workers. His (correct) claim that the law Walker signed caused “the state’s public unions to hemorrhage members” should have led Scheiber to that conclusion. Those workers, presumably, did not want to associate with the union and they exercised their right.
The other thing that should have clued Scheiber in to what was going on is his statement that unions are prevented “from automatically deducting dues from members’ paychecks.” In other words, again, members can not be forced to pay. That’s another victory for freedom of association.
Put that issue aside and Scheiber’s piece is a good piece of reporting on the stakes involved. But even there, he misses one of the big stakes involved: the attempt to rein in the greediness of government-sector unions. I live in what could be called a one-party state: California. Democrats dominate on every level of state politics. Government-sector unions are very powerful and have used this power to extract huge inflation-adjusted, and not fully funded, pensions that many of them can collect as early as in their early 50s. The governor of the state, Jerry Brown, is a Democrat. Guess who wrote a letter to the Board of the California Public Employees Retirement System (CALPERS) a few days ago expressing his upset about a CALPERS decision to “include temporary pay hikes in the way pensions are calculated for newly hired workers.” That’s right. Jerry Brown.