Magazine | September 19, 2011, Issue


Organized Labor vs. Fundamental Rights

Robert VerBruggen did an excellent job in a short space of demonstrating the egregious flaws in the National Labor Relations Act (“National Labor Relations Bias,” August 1). I have long regarded this as one of the most vicious, authoritarian, and unconstitutional pieces of special-interest legislation ever passed. The article exposes its key defects, but there are many more.

Had it not been for FDR’s court-packing threat in late 1936, the Supreme Court would certainly have struck down the NLRA, just as it had other New Deal policies that exceeded the powers of Congress. Not only does the act interfere with intrastate commerce (labor contracts between employers and their workers had properly been regarded as a matter for state action, if any, under court precedents), but it erodes First Amendment rights in order to prop up unions. Not only can employers face legal sanctions for saying things about unions that might sway an election; they are forbidden to publicly announce their bargaining position, as General Electric found when it did that in the early 1960s. The case went as far as the Second Circuit, which held that it was an unfair labor practice for company management to tell workers exactly what it was prepared to offer in contract negotiations.

The practical effect of that ruling is to make it appear that all increases in wages and benefits are due to union bargaining, even though market conditions might have led to similar if not identical increases. Preserving the notion that unions are necessarily beneficial for workers thus trumped freedom of speech. The Warren Court, so solicitous of “fundamental rights,” didn’t bother to review that decision.

Rights to free speech, contract, property, and association are all trampled upon by the NLRA, for employers and workers alike.

The NLRA certainly could be made less intrusive, but instead of trying to reform it, I favor working for repeal. That would do away with the odious NLRB and return labor law to the states, where it belongs under the Constitution. And the ideal state regulatory scheme? Stick with the common-law principles of contract, property, association, and so on. There is no reason to treat labor unions as different from any other sort of private organization.

George C. Leef

Author, Free Choice for Workers: A History of the Right to Work Movement

Director of Research, Pope Center for Higher Education Policy

Raleigh, N.C.


Eric Cantor, Heir to James Madison

The mini-biography of Eric Cantor by Robert Costa (“Obama’s Nemesis,” August 15) was exceptionally well done. I was especially interested to learn that his congressional seat was once filled by none other than James Madison. After finishing James Madison: A Biography, by Ralph Ketcham, I made a trip to Montpelier, James Madison’s country estate and birthplace in Virginia.

I could not help being struck by the similarities between the two soft-spoken, patient, selfless intellectuals. Even their families’ circumstances had much in common. I was pleased that you chose to feature Mr. Cantor at this crucial time in our country’s history. This rising star will surely shine brightly for many years to come.

Art Kelly

Birmingham, Ala.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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