An Open Letter to the California Legislature

By Baird, Charles W. | Freeman, August 1999 | Go to article overview

An Open Letter to the California Legislature


Baird, Charles W., Freeman


As a student of public choice theory, I understand why you support SB 1241, a mandatory agency-shop bill for California State University (CSU) faculty. After all, in the words of Ambrose Bierce, "politics is a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles." The California Faculty Association (CFA) supports you in the political marketplace, so it is quite natural for you to give them the power to extract more dues money from faculty. If they have more dues money, they can give more to you. I imagine from your perspective this is a virtuous circle.

I have written extensively on the issue of so-called union security. I know you understand the main argument in favor of union security-the so-called free-rider problembut I would like to give you the other side of the story.

First, there could be no free-rider problem if it were not for the principle of exclusive representation. If we had a system of members-only bargaining (sometimes called proportional representation), the CFA would not have to bargain on my behalf. I could not receive any of the alleged benefits of their representation services, because I would be responsible for bargaining for myself or for selecting some other representative to bargain for me. In other words, the union's free-rider problem is an artifact of the law. It is not a problem inherent in collective bargaining.

Workplace Democracy

Now, you are probably thinking that exclusive representation is simply majority rule in the workplace. It is economic democracy. After all, as I have heard many of my debate opponents say, we elect members of the legislature by majority vote. A winning candidate represents all eligible voters in his or her district notwithstanding that many voted for another candidate and many more didn't vote at all. That is what democracy is all about. The majority rules. If it is good in politics, it must be good in unionism too. But that conclusion is a non sequitur.

Government is a natural monopoly. It has a monopoly on the legal use of force. There can be only one government at a time. Like all monopolists, governments have a tendency to abuse their monopoly power. Historically, democracy evolved as a way for the governed to have some ability to protect themselves against governmental abuse. Democracy-the mandatory submission of minorities to the will of majorities on all matters that are within the constitutional scope of governmental authority-was never intended to be imposed in the private sphere of human action. There, individual autonomy and free choice are the proper rules. Private persons are free individually to associate with private groups that use majority rule to make decisions, but they are also free not to do so.

Unions are not governments. They are private associations. (The last time I checked, civilian employees of government were still private citizens.) To impose mandatory submission of minorities to the will of majorities in private affairs by statute is to breach the constitutional wall of separation between government powers and individual rights. On this reading therefore, exclusive representation is illicit. (You cannot take refuge in the U.S. Supreme Court's 1937 ruling in the Jones & Laughlin Steel Co. case, which upheld the National Labor Relations Act. We all know that decision was made possible by the switch of votes by Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes and Associate Justice Owen J. …

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