Commentary, Free Trade

Jim Gray: Workers’ Unions Could Give Workers a Voice, and Administer Unemployment and Benefit Plans

We all know that the “pendulum” swings back and forth over time as to many issues. And, although I never thought I would say this, one of them with which that should happen again is the issue of workers’ unions.

I came to that conclusion after reading an article by Jonathan Rauch in the July/August issue of The Atlantic entitled “The Conservative Case for Unions.” As we all know, private-sector labor unions in the past had become so powerful that they virtually dictated how lots of companies could do business.

So eventually the reaction against that power became so strong that laws were passed, along with many bureaucratic regulations and court interpretations that interpreted them, that specifically prohibited unions from engaging in numbers of activities. Of course, that has not particularly at all affected public employees unions.

Now times have changed, but the laws have not. So it is mostly still prohibited to form such things as “workers’ unions.” These would still not be empowered to negotiate about wages, engage in strikes or otherwise be involved in collective bargaining issues. But they would be able to serve other functions. For example, almost all surveys of lower economic-level workers disclose that usually their biggest complaint is a lack of respect and a feeling of diminishment in how they are treated in the workplace.

So a workers’ union could both give the workers a unified voice, as well as address and propose resolutions for things such as workplace safety issues. In addition, it would allow the workers jointly to pursue such innovations like helping to administer government-funded unemployment and health-insurance plans and benefits, administer wage insurance plans, and even serve as employment agencies. Liberty allows for innovation and change and, in this area, Liberty is being stifled.

(Photo of women modeling International Ladies Garment Workers Union clothing by Kheel Center used with permission.)


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