I’ve always cackled at the “right-to-work” provision preventing non-union workers in union shops – those who otherwise receive union-negotiated pay and workplace benefits if not direct union support – from paying union dues. So let me get this straight – you get to enjoy most of the benefits of being in a union, but without actually paying for it? Sign me up, brother! It’s like stealing a high-speed wireless signal from a neighbor too stupid to password-protect his router – a can’t lose proposition!
So it is, now, in Indiana, where Gov. Mitch Daniels has just signed a right-to-work bill into law. I’ll leave it to others to either lament or praise the bill on economic grounds, but the logic of the dues provision always strikes me as absurd. I mean, what if we extended this philosophy – that of opting out of unwanted personal financial commitments thrust upon us by our representatives – to the political realm? Can you imagine the blowback? Could a citizen, then, opt out of taxes for programs she didn’t like on the basis that the party that enacted those programs wasn’t the party she actually voted for? How about all taxes, even for policies she supported? Those roads and schools – and so much more! – are pretty sweet, after all, but to pay for them? Well, let’s not be crass! At its extremity, for me anyway, this is how the “no dues” edict really sounds.
We hear similar arguments in support of campaign finance reform. I recall, during the throes of the McCain-Feingold negotiations, that conservatives called for an amendment banning union contributions to candidates that the rank-and-file – even a tiny minority of the rank-and-file – didn’t support. It makes sense, if you think organizations are meaningless, voting is inherently invalid, and majority rule constitutes de facto tyranny over hapless minorities. But let’s assume that these positions are, in fact, valid and represent a reasonable critique of long-accepted concepts drawn from wacky French and British thinkers who, let’s face it, are irredeemably European and thus un-American.
Might we then apply this “anti-union” policy, say, to the spending authority of corporate directors, with respect to an expanded view of shareholder rights? In this post-Citizens United era, the thought deserves some consideration. Logically, it would ensure an even greater expansion of individual rights, of the type conservatives want to grant non-union members, if you discount the idea that corporations are themselves “individuals.” (Sorry, but I don’t: if you can’t squeeze your butt into a seat in the Verizon Center to watch the Caps blow yet another season, you’re not a person.) Perhaps we could arrange a per-share discount to reflect the disagreement? But make no mistake – when the dividend comes, the dissenting shareholder gets a full payment. It’s only fair, no?
Alas, the logic of right-to-work legislation is confined to the union-busting realm only. It’s a product of strong anti-union sentiment that’s become conventional wisdom over the past 30 years. But try to envision an America where minority individuals (no, not that kind), as part of lawful organizations, could veto spending decisions they don’t support, or withhold contributions to institutions from which they receive a benefit, as a part of normal affairs. Would any decision-making be valid in our system? Would the system survive? I suppose the point of right-to-work laws is to make this type of head-scratcher legal in just one circumstance, but it reeks of a cynicism that could undermine our nation’s institutional integrity.