The New York Times ran a story in early March purporting to show (according to their headline) that “Majority in Poll Back Employees in Public Sector Unions.” But this poll is completely worthless. To understand why just look at the question they used to justify their headline. “Collective bargaining refers to negotiations between an employer and a labor union’s members to determine the conditions of employment. Some states are trying to take away some collective bargaining rights of public employee unions. Do you favor or oppose taking away some collective bargaining rights of the unions?”
Not surprisingly, 60% of Americans told The New York Times they did not want to take away the rights of other Americans. The problem is, of course, that collective bargaining is not a right. It is a privilege. In fact, I have hereinafter banned the word ‘right’ from this website.
There is a big difference between rights and privileges. Americans have the right to vote. The state, barring a felony conviction, cannot take that right away. Driving, on the other hand, is privilege. The state can refuse you the privilege of driving for a myriad of reasons including failure to pass a test showing you know the rules of the road or failing to purchase auto insurance. Like driving, collective bargaining is a privilege.
Similarly the freedom of association is a right shared by all Americans and protected by the First Amendment. In contrast, collective bargaining is a special power occasionally granted to some unions. In upholding North Carolina’s ban on government union collective bargaining, a federal court wrote in Atkins vs City of Charlotte.
“All citizens have the right to associate in groups to advocate their special interests to the government. It is something entirely different to grant any one interest group special status and access to the decision making process.”
Governor Scott Walker’s budget bill in Wisconsin in no way infringes on the rights of any Americans to associate and lobby government. What it does do is allow Wisconsin employees to choose not to join a union and keep their job at the same time. It also forces public employee unions in Wisconsin to collect their own union dues, instead of using the power of the state to withhold dues directly from the paychecks of union members.
Now here is a question you’ll never see in a New York Times poll.
“Do you favor forcing all state employees to join a union and empowering government unions to take union dues directly from employee paychecks, by force, if necessary, while at the same time paying more in taxes in order to fund higher wages and union dues for public employee unions?”