The Corner

Amity’s Labor Day Resolution: Repeal the Wagner Act

Labor on the brain. 

Wrote Bloomberg column about why unions’ manners matter. We live in a society that treasures tiny options and respects the every mood of the investor or consumer. But there is one corner of that society, where that treasuring and that respect of the individual do not hold. That corner is the corner created by the Wagner Act. And Big Labor, the child of the act, is downright rude. Workers in some states must pay union dues, or the equivalent, even if they are not in unions. Companies must subject themselves to the behavioralism of the National Labor Relations Board or see their business damaged. The NLRB’s rough handling of Boeing is a recent example. The NLRB has said Boeing must even consider undertaking business in Washington state in order to get permission to build its Dreamliner in the Carolinas.

William F. Buckley paid great attention to words. Words tell a lot about our labor situations, too. The way you know our labor law is rotten is because its words, the union terminology, do not make sense. Is collective bargaining truly “collective” if an individual does not want to be part of the contract? The National Labor Relations Board is not really national if only one in ten American laborers in the private sector has chosen to be in a union, which is the case. Since 1983 union membership has gone from 20 percent to just under 12 percent. We used to believe the unions did not matter, because the economy would grow past them; but this particular year, each job matters much. We are not growing past unions fast enough. If we cannot repeal the Wagner Act, here’s a gentler suggestion: suspend the act for two years, and then see what happens to growth. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is one of my favorite nonprofits. They’re aggressive, but in my experience only as aggressive as their union counterparts.

Amity Shlaes is the author of several New York Times bestsellers, including The Forgotten Man.

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