The Libertarians Against Coercion Applauding Dick DeVos’ Coercion

I had a pretty revelatory experience last night interacting with a bunch of self-identified libertarians about alleged violence in Lansing yesterday and so-called Right to Work. I asked several of them why they were supporting a bill that should be anathema to libertarian principles. Here’s a more coherent version of the argument I made.

I also consider the restrictions right-to-work laws impose on bargaining between unions and businesses to violate freedom of contract and association. So I’m not cheerleading for the right-to-work law just passed in Michigan, which bans closed shops in which union membership is a condition of employment. I’m disappointed that the state has, once again, inserted itself into the marketplace to place its thumb on the scale in the never-ending game of playing business and labor off against one another.

[snip]

The ideal role for the government in business-labor relations is to stay the hell out of it and let the parties work things out themselves. I may preferone outcome or another, but I don’t have the right to enforce it by law, and that’s what right-to-work legislation does.

While I don’t embrace that view, it is the stance I would expect true libertarians to adopt. I’m gratified a couple of libertarians weighed in and pointed out the inconsistency of the arguments my interlocutors were making, which at least caused them some confusion (and led one to admit he would freeload on taxes if it were not for fear of legal repercussions).

One thing these self-identified libertarians kept coming back to, however, was alleged union coercion. They don’t want to be coerced into joining a union, paying dues or representation fees. These people at least pretended to be adamantly opposed to coercion.

Which is why this detail of Michigan’s union-busting is an important part of the narrative.

Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat told MSNBC that some of her Republican colleagues complained to her privately that DeVos was twisting their arms over the anti-union legislation.

“I spoke with someone in Republican leadership who was angry because these heavy-handed tactics were being used with the members,” she said. Republicans told her, she said, that DeVos had “threatened primaries, threatened to spend whatever it takes to beat them if they don’t support these bills.”

It’s not just Gretchen Whitmer saying this. Detroit Free Press said it specifically about Randy Richardville, who flipped his position on RtW.

Certainly, there are a large number of Michigan legislators who are beholden to Americans for Prosperity, or the Koch brothers. Word is the groups threatened Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville’s leadership post, and promised him a primary challenge in 2014, if he refused to move right-to-work forward.

And Tim Skubick named DeVos too.

Having performed the 180, Mr. DeVos ramped it up. He told senators that if they don’t vote for this thing, he would launch a petition drive to place this before the voters.

Recall that Mr. DeVos spent $35 million of his own money to beat Gov. Jennifer Granholm, (money wasted). Legislators on the other end of his phone calls knew he has the deep pockets to not only gather the required signatures, but also to find a way to sell it to the voters.

Folks in MI are fairly clear about one thing: a billionaire who was soundly defeated by voters in 2006 has instead brought about a radical change in the state’s law by coercing people, precisely the kind of thuggishness “Right to Work” supporters claim unions engage in.

“Right to Work” supporters insist that no one should feel like their job depends on capitulating to coercion about who or what to support.

Except that Dick DeVos and his thuggish special interest group friends used precisely that kind of coercion to cram this law through. Randy Richardville, among others, was told his job depended on supporting policies and groups he otherwise wouldn’t support.

I guess libertarians like the kind of thuggishness billionaires engage in?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

16 replies
  1. jpe says:

    It’s hard to see how a libertarian would support compulsory union membership, because that only works through government restraint on the freedom to contract. ie, if an employer wants to hire me and I want to work there, that should be the end of it; it requires government interference in that relationship to compel me to join a union.

    I’m not a libertarian, mind you, but it seems crystal clear that libertarians would support right to work legislation.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @jpe: You’re conflating two things, apparently misunderstanding what right to work does.

    Right to work is the state telling two independent entities–corporations and unions–that it is not legal to include a clause in a contract that says those who benefit from union representation have to pay FOR THE REPRESENTATION. They never have to join a union–that’s not legal. But the democratically elected union and the legally formed corporation can, otherwise, include contract language that says those benefitting from legal representation pay for that representation. And the corporation can always hire people who choose not to join the union.

  3. eh says:

    jpe: should an employer have the freedom to choose to work with a union, and should that union be able to charge dues?

  4. Eat The Rich says:

    Dick and Betsy DeVos have done more damage to the State of Michigan than al-Qaeda could ever dream of doing.

    the DeVos duo are a damn good argument for taxing inheritances 100%.

    these 2 pos have never worked a day in their crummy lives.

    Michigan House Democrats still reeling after the swift approval of the right-to-work law are pointing to former Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos as a driving force behind it.

    “You take an issue that is probably the biggest piece of legislation we’ve considered in the last 50 years in this state and you rush it through in a lame-duck Legislature when you’ve got police officers guarding the door, and you’ve got Republican staffers in the gallery taking up seats.”

    http://www.woodtv.com/dpp/news/politics/Dems-Right-to-work-is-DeVos-dream

  5. gop Blitzkreig says:

    Medical ‘moral objection’ bill one step closer to law in Michigan

    Critics say sometimes religiously affiliated health care facilities are the only option in some places.

    State Representative Marcia Hovey-Wright (D-Muskegon) said her constituents could be severely affected by the law because the only major hospital that services her district is a Catholic hospital.

    The facility could deny care to a patient and be immune from liability:

    They point to a provision in the bill that would protect against civil, criminal, and administrative liability for individuals and facilities that choose to deny care.

    http://www.michiganradio.org/post/medical-moral-objection-bill-one-step-closer-law-michigan

  6. rg says:

    If you or I are/am an elected legislator and a constituent promises to cause financial and electoral difficulties for us if we fail to vote in a certain way, but implies that voting in an approved manner will result in those problems being absent, would not this constitute an attempt to bribe a public official?

  7. orionATL says:

    from revelatory experiences to revelatory reading:

    recently, while cruising the info aisles of the wash post, i stumbled across this opinion by harold meyerson. it was not remotely what i was searching for, but it cast an utterly fascinating light on a matter of unfairness that bothers me greatly – the legal/legislative mistreatment of unions vs the legal/legislative support for any self-serving law/legislation corporate power, or a specific corporation, could want.

    here is the money quote, for me at least, from meyerson’s editorial:

    “… Taken in context with the conservative majority’s other recent rulings, Alito’s opinion also revealed the most class-based double standard the court has exhibited since before the New Deal. In the 2010 case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission — rendered by the same five justices who signed onto Alito’s ruling in Knox — the court ruled that corporations could directly spend their resources on political campaigns. These two decisions mean that a person who goes to work for the unionized Acme Widget Company can refuse to pay for the union’s intervention in political campaigns but has no recourse to reclaim the value of his labor that Acme reaps and opts to spend on political campaigns. Citizens United created a legal parity between companies and unions — both are free to dip into their treasuries for political activities — but Knox creates a legal disparity between them: a worker’s free-speech right entitles him to withhold funds from union campaign and lobbying activities, but not the value of his work from the company’s similar endeavors.

    If you seek a precedent for this anomaly, might I suggest the following sentiment on unions written (not in a court ruling, mind you) by former president William Howard Taft in 1922, when he was chief justice: “That faction we have to hit every little while.” That’s the “legal” tradition to which Alito adhered: fear and loathing of workers’ organizations…”

    to me, this said it all. the crap about “compulsion”, “lack of freedom”, et al, are just examples of the intellectual dishonesty the republican party has visited upon the citizenry since they were taught how to lie most effectively – by george lakoff.

    source for quote:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/harold-meyerson-class-war-at-the-supreme-court/2012/06/26/gJQAuffO5V_story.html

    what meyerson was writing about was a supreme court case that may be directly ties to gov devoe/snyder’s bill.

    the case was decided by the same benighted, mitred republican political operatives who have visited so much backwards legal folly on this nation of ours.

    meyerson:

    “…Exhibit A is Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in Knox v. Service Employees International Union, Local 1000, in which nonunion California state employees whose wages and benefits were nonetheless set through the collective bargaining process of SEIU — the state’s largest union — sued the local to get back a special dues assessment it levied in 2005 to fight two ballot measures. The union’s normal practice was to allow nonmembers to opt out of paying the roughly 44 percent of dues that went to matters not directly related to collective bargaining, such as election campaigns. In this instance, however, no such opt-out was allowed…”

  8. orionATL says:

    @orionATL:

    since it may not be clear due to the amount of text i cited, here is the crux of the issue of concern to me:

    “…These two decisions mean that a person who goes to work for the unionized Acme Widget Company can refuse to pay for the union’s intervention in political campaigns but has no recourse to reclaim the value of his labor that Acme reaps and opts to spend on political campaigns. Citizens United created a legal parity between companies and unions — both are free to dip into their treasuries for political activities — but Knox creates a legal disparity between them: a worker’s free-speech right entitles him to withhold funds from union campaign and lobbying activities, but not the value of his work from the company’s similar endeavors…”

  9. Larry Roberts says:

    “I spoke with someone in Republican leadership who was angry because these heavy-handed tactics were being used with the members,” she said. Republicans told her, she said, that DeVos had “threatened primaries, threatened to spend whatever it takes to beat them if they don’t support these bills.”

    “Except that Dick DeVos and his thuggish special interest group friends used precisely that kind of coercion to cram this law through. Randy Richardville, among others, was told his job depended on supporting policies and groups he otherwise wouldn’t support.”

    Maybe this isn’t realistic but it would be nice to have politicians with more backbone and an electorate that supported them.

  10. jpe says:

    “jpe: should an employer have the freedom to choose to work with a union….”

    Remember, I’m not a libertarian; we’re discussing what a libertarian position would be. With that said, the libertarian view is precisely that the government shouldn’t compel an employer to work with unions. If the employer wants to work with a union, that’s their right to do so, but they shouldn’t be forced to do so by the law.

    Right to work legislation cuts back the government interference that makes union hiring compulsory, so of course a libertarian would agree with RTW.

    So emptywheel fundamentally misunderstands what’s going on. Corps didn’t just up and decide one day to work with unions and to require that employees join the union; it’s purely the result of government interference and compulsion.

    “Right to work is the state telling two independent entities–corporations and unions–that it is not legal to include a clause in a contract that says those who benefit from union representation have to pay FOR THE REPRESENTATION.”

    Based on the foregoing, then, it should be clear why this is completely backwards. RTW partially restores the status quo ante that existed prior to government interference into the employer/employee contract.

  11. emptywheel says:

    @jpe: No. Actually you continue to suggest there’s a compulsion to hire union people. There’s not, not in any state. You also suggest that libertarians would treat corporations, but not unions, as legitimate self-associations. That’s also not what true libertarians would think.

    I appreciate that you’re not a libertarian. But that doesn’t change that you misunderstand the law.

  12. Phlinn says:

    Although I find right to work distasteful, the inability to fire striking workers is a much greater violation of freedom of association. Since I can’t have my preference of getting government out of involving itself in labor negotiations entirely, adding right to work to existing union protections is a net improvement. The existing protections vastly strengthen unions beyond what they would be in an actual free market, but right to work weakens them slightly. I’ll oppose ‘right to work’ if you give up the ‘right to strike’.

    It’s similar to the reason that although I would prefer government get out of marriage entirely except for regular contract law, I support same sex marriage over the status quo.

  13. John Forde says:

    Mr DeVos, Good news! The legislature has agreed with you to keep the government’s thumb off the scale between business and labor and has just revoked your limited liability.

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