The Corner

What Collective Bargaining Is

It’s clear from the recent poll purporting to show that the general population overwhelmingly supports collective bargaining, as well as from a recent article in Slate, that even informed people don’t really have a grasp on what collective bargaining is. Either that, or they’re misleading the public.

The poll defines the concept thus: “negotiations between an employer and a labor union’s members to determine the conditions of employment.” Slate wonders, “How can Wisconsin stop employees from bargaining collectively?” and answers, “By refusing to talk to their leaders.”

Both of these fail to make clear the coercion inherent in “collective bargaining” as it actually operates under the law. In reality, “collective bargaining” is when a majority of employees vote to unionize, and then the union has the legal right to represent all the employees. In other words, it forces workers to accept unions as their bargaining agents, and it forbids employers to negotiate with non-union workers on an individual basis.

In a right-to-work state, private-sector workers can refuse to pay union dues, but even then they are still bound by the union contract; elsewhere, they can be forced to pay dues. Public-sector policies vary state by state. In Wisconsin, public-sector employees can be forced to contribute to their unions, whether they want to or not.

In other words, Wisconsin doesn’t really have to “stop employees from bargaining collectively”; it just has to stop forcing employees to bargain collectively (in the guise of protecting a “right”), and to pay for it.


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