One of the local ballot issues in Tuesday’s election here in Virginia was a constitutional amendment to the state barring “closed-shop”, that is barring agreements between firms and unions to require union membership or dues as a condition of employment. Such legislation, referred to as “right to work” (RTW) are common in the US. However, the ballot measure was defeated here in Virginia, an outcome which I support and voted for.
On the surface, this could be seen as a violation of my free market (free from coercion) principles. Aren’t such agreements coercive? Why should a worker be compelled to join a union? These questions are legitimate, but ultimately inaccurate to describe closed shops. In fact, the RTW legislation is coercive.
I will make a simple case. Firms should be allowed to enter into voluntary agreements as they wish. They have property rights, just like people. If a firm wishes to enter into an agreement of its own free will with a union for a closed shop, then it should be able to. Legislation to prevent such agreements violates the firm’s right to contract. If a worker voluntarily agrees to take a position in a closed shop knowing full well of the requirements, he has no right to complain or challenge the agreement between the firm and union. This would be akin to a person buying a home in a HOA knowing the rules require it to be painted green and then complaining he can’t paint it orange.
Firms, unions, and individuals all have the right to enter freely into contracts. None of them have the right to use government coercion to change the terms of the contract after the fact.
PS: please forgive any typos. I am typing this on my phone while trapped underground on the Metro
Update: Fixed typos and grammatical errors.