All those recent polls asking people if they’re in favor of reducing the collective bargaining “rights” of public service workers make me wonder whether most people have any real idea what the term actually means. But a couple of days ago, Harvard economics professor Robert Barro obliged by offering a short primer in the WSJ:
Labor unions like to portray collective bargaining as a basic civil liberty, akin to the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and religion. For a teachers union, collective bargaining means that suppliers of teacher services to all public school systems in a state—or even across states—can collude with regard to acceptable wages, benefits and working conditions. An analogy for business would be for all providers of airline transportation to assemble to fix ticket prices, capacity and so on. From this perspective, collective bargaining on a broad scale is more similar to an antitrust violation than to a civil liberty…
Remarkably, labor unions are not only immune from antitrust laws but can also negotiate a “union shop,” which requires nonunion employees to join the union or pay nearly equivalent dues. Somehow, despite many attempts, organized labor has lacked the political power to repeal the key portion of the 1947 Taft Hartley Act that allowed states to pass right-to-work laws, which now prohibit the union shop in 22 states. From the standpoint of civil liberties, the individual right to work—without being forced to join a union or pay dues—has a much better claim than collective bargaining.
My guess is that, if most Americans knew what this was all about, they would be standing with the Governor of Wisconsin. It’s a good bet that they aren’t aware, however, and that much of the MSM is dedicated to the proposition that it stays that way.