Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Faculty Unions


According to this story on Inside Higher Ed, the issue of faculty unionization — whether professors are to be regarded as “employees” under the National Labor Relations Act and therefore able to form a governmentally-recognized union — is still very much undecided after an appellate court’s reversal of a decision by the National Labor Relations Board.


The problem here is the assumption that the faculty members who want union representation are forbidden to have it unless the legal decision goes their way.  That’s not the case.  Nothing can legally prevent any number of professors from creating their own union and asking some other union for assistance in bargaining if they want it.  Unions that are not certified by the National Labor Relations Board, however, do not get two enormous boosts that certified unions do: exclusive representation (in other words, the union becomes the exclusive representative of all the workers in the “bargaining unit,” whether they want it or not) and mandatory bargaining (the employer is compelled by law to bargain “in good faith” with the union). Those authoritarian provisions of the National Labor Relations Act are unjustifiable and ought to be repealed. Ideally, Congress would junk the whole of the NLRA, but that’s not about to happen.


Professors who feel sufficiently aggrieved that they want union representation should not think that everything depends on the decision as to their “employee” status under the law. They should be and are free to form a union in any event.  Could a union accomplish anything without the benefit of federal coercion of workers who prefer independence and of employers who don’t want to engage in collective bargaining? That was the circumstance prior to the passage of the NLRA in 1935. Unions existed and bargained on behalf of their members under the common law. The old saying that you can get more with a gun and a smile than with just a smile applies here.


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