Labor Unions

When Joe Biden Talks About Worker Choice, He Means Only 1 Choice

His administration is twisting history and federal law to claim the government must encourage collective bargaining.


President Joe Biden believes joining a union isn't merely a right that workers have but something the federal government has an obligation to promote. He repeated this on April 26 as he announced the creation of a special Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment. "Since 1935, when the National Labor Relations Act [NLRA] was enacted, the policy of the federal government has been to encourage worker organizing and collective bargaining, not to merely allow or tolerate them," Biden claimed. (Emphasis his.)

Unfortunately for workers, Biden's stance is a misreading of federal law, and it signals four years of aggressive sales tactics from this administration on behalf of its union allies.

Sen. Robert F. Wagner (D–N.Y.), the primary author of the NLRA, also known as the Wagner Act, thought the government was neutral on the issue. "The malicious falsehood has been widely circulated that the measure was designed to force men into unions, although the text provides in simple English prose that workers shall be absolutely free to belong or to refrain from belonging to any organization," Wagner said in a 1935 radio address.

Here's what the text of the NLRA says:

It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing.

So, yes, the law's text does include the word encouraging. However, that word follows a long preamble about preventing "certain substantial obstructions" to commerce, which refer to things like strikes, protests, riots, or any other collective action that could damage a business's ability to operate.

The right to collective bargaining existed only in a very limited fashion prior to the NLRA's 1935 passage. The U.S. was in the middle of the Great Depression and 1934 was a particularly troubled year for labor unrest. The passage of the NLRA was intended to put an end to that by giving workers and businesses a less disruptive way to resolve disputes.

What if there aren't "obstructions to the free flow of commerce"? Workers still have the right to collectively bargain, hence the NLRA's second part about protecting workers' "full freedom of association," which reaffirms the First Amendment's "right of the people peaceably to assemble."

In short, the NLRA was only meant to encourage collective bargaining when that serves the purpose of ending "substantial" disruptions in industries, such as strikes, to avoid harm to the national economy. The NLRA is not a mandate for the government to encourage collective bargaining where there are no disruptions. In those situations, the NLRA says that belonging to a union is solely the workers' choice.

The Biden administration seems to know this because it is trying to rewrite the NLRA to make the law encourage unions. The administration supports passing the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), which would eliminate all state-level right-to-work laws. That would strip many workers in 27 states of the choice to say no to belonging to a union.

Had the drafters of the NLRA meant to encourage workers to join a union, they could have made all organized workplaces "closed shops." They could have prohibited right-to-work laws and instead required all workers to join or otherwise support the union if they wanted to keep their jobs. Some lawmakers originally pushed for that but Wagner rejected it, saying during Senate debate that the legislation "does not force any employer to make a closed-shop agreement. It does not even state that Congress favors the policy of the closed shop."

A decade later, the Taft-Hartley amendments to the NLRA would clarify that individual states could prohibit closed shops. The 27 states that do this are now called right-to-work states.

"All I am trying to do, and I think, you believe me when I say that, is to make the worker a free man to join any organization that he wishes to join," Wagner told a gas station attendant in 1934.

Biden's interpretation that the NLRA encourages unions lacks that nuance. He gives lip service to the notion that the choice is solely left up to workers while focusing on aiding his allies in the union movement. That ought to concern workers who would rather make up their own mind about joining a union.

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  1. OBL, is this good, or bad? I’m not sure what effect this will have on the Koch fortune.

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  2. unions are so awesome we need to have laws to force people to join them!

    1. I know people who think this way. I’m a self employed drafter and years ago my dad said all the drafters need to unionize. i said hell no i won’t be held back by the the lousy drafters in this town. Ironicly as soon as my dad retired he became a republican and started hating unions and this was before FOX news got big.

      1. one grandfather tried to unionize all teh car mechanics, he got fired and opened his own shop.
        My other grandfather tried to unionize construction laborers it worked for a while but then everyone quite building here because of the union.

      2. As a self employed remodeler, I once almost joined the carpenters Union, log in 20 hours/week for health insurance. But I could get better on my own with no strings. Who wants to be a union’s minion? Yuck

        1. Democrats? They enjoy being drones in a collective.

    2. Anyone who has ever been on the corporate side of an organizing effort knows that the Federal government already does FAR more than “encourage” unionization. In dealing with the NLRB and for all their supposed “fairness”, it takes only the first contact with them to realize that you’re playing against a stacked deck. The NLRB supervisor in charge fully understood that the union strategy was to force us into negotiations at the beginning of our busy cycle and did everything in her power to fast-track it for them. I stalled the hell out of it and she failed, but she gave it her all.

  3. 1 choice = 0 choices

    1. What if you choose not to decide?

  4. So Biden is a tyrannical, authoritative, plagiarizing, liar ! That is what his base wanted. They suck, too.

    1. Democrats tend to be those kinds of people. So they don’t care.

      A,Eric’s needs the constitution. It doesn’t need democrats.

  5. Good thing all the “libertarians” at Reason schlubbed for Biden.

    1. hey, we got rid of the mean tweets!

  6. One of my first jobs was in a union shop. My experience was that the union was more interested in preserving its security agreement with the business (a national grocery store chain with over 300k employees) than actually protecting any of the workers

    I suspect this is a common problem where unions represent unskilled and mostly inexperienced workers. If given a choice most wouldn’t choose to join the union, and absent a security agreement with the business they could easily replace all workers with non-union workers (due to the positions requiring little to no skill or experience) so the union has to work toward the benefit of the business more so than the workers, otherwise they lose their contracts and dues moneys

    1. That’s the problem: Due to the incentives, a union of any substantial size tends to become a boss’s union or a Mafia union. Or in certain lines of work, both! Funny to think that in the middle of the 20th Century the concern was with communists infiltrating the unions, the unions turning Red; what’s the difference, they weren’t going to do the membership any good anyway!

      The only milieu in which unionism has been a benefit to the workers in a long run has been government work, and you can see that in the increasing proportion of union membership doing government work. This is because since the enterprise isn’t going to turn a profit anyway, it has no incentive to treat its employees well. Rather, the incentive has been to abuse them, as most readily seen in postal work. So they needed a union just to lean against management’s tendency to get their jollies (at no benefit to the service being rendered) by abusing the help. And the same was true for government school teachers. The unfortunate by product is that as long as they were already doing good by their members, they turned their free time on the job to deleterious ends against the polity. The result is that the outcome for the teachers’ unions has been as bad as was feared in the 1950s of unions turning Red — without any need for them to turn Red!

      1. Well, the primary purpose of Unions has been usurped by government. Employee rights laws, enforced by Human Resources departments, protect employees from abuse, wage theft, and other crimes while OSHA protects employee safety.

        Now, at best they negotiate wages and benefits and provide legal representation when a boss goes too far. At worst, they strike randomly and provide nonsensical work requirements, causing shops to go out of business.

    2. No union represents the workers. A few may have in the past when the union officials were also still employees, but those days are long gone. They represent their own interests, first, last, and only. If it adds to the union boss’ political, financial, or security interests, that’s where they will go. The only thing keeping unions bosses even semi-honest is the idea that if they don’t at least appear to represent workers’ interests, they risk losing their fat little paychecks either by personal replacement or decertification of the union. Try staying a Teamster Local president when you lose shop after shop.

  7. My brother-in-law retired from a job that required his membership in the Teamsters Union. He still needs to earn a living – he’s only 62, and to keep his pension benefits, there are only certain types of jobs he can have. He is self-employed and with his accountant’s help, has figured out (so far) how to protect his pension income, but I have never understood the logic of the restrictions placed on him.

    1. Must not compete with active union members.

      1. After I posted my comment I searched online and found the official reemployment rules. You are right – the rules seems intended to protect union members. The restrictions go a little beyond the union contracted employers – working in the same industry in which the retired worker earned his/her “contributory credit with the pension fund”, or “work in any position in the same job classification as other plan participants in a 100-mile radius.” Employment in those situations is limited to 80 hours per month, except for workers age 65 and older who have been retired for at least 12 months. The rules appear to be trying to protect potential union members, not just active union members.

  8. Not a single union supporter has ever explained to me the difference between forced unionization and racketeering.

    1. Like democratic socialism vs socialism, forced unionization has confetti and balloons

  9. If you are forced to join a union, it will only represent itself. Voluntary participation is the only system that can represent its members.

  10. Great picture of Biden by the way. Looks like such an angry cracker.

  11. Liars gotta lie.

  12. Why do politicians love unions? Because they aggregate money and power. They only have to shake a few hands to get access to an army’s worth of resources. It’s a far easier grift.

    1. Including the resources of those who would otherwise not support a given candidate. That includes money as well as time. I know two guys who were actually forced to go out and “volunteer” time for candidates they wouldn’t vote for or risk financial penalty for not supporting the union. Essentially slave labor.

  13. So Biden is a corrupt politician who is using his power to enrich his cronies, who turn around and contribute to his political party. Who could have seen this coming?

    1. Everyone who lives in Illinois, for starters.

    2. Given the effect this “task force” will have, this a real missed opportunity for an appropriate acronym: WOKE – Worker Organizing and KLEPTOCRACY Empowerment

  14. “All I am trying to do, and I think, you believe me when I say that, is to make the worker a free man to join any organization that he wishes to join,” Wagner told a gas station attendant in 1934.

    But that’s not the way it worked out. Rather, workers had the collective, not individual, right to form a bargaining unit, and, if they were successful, make that the unit the employer had to bargain with, and no other. Wildcatting is prohibited as long as a bargaining unit and its representation exist. So the working man is free to join any organization he wishes, but if one of those organizations succeeds in organizing a majority, all the others are then locked out from bargaining. They can continue to exist, of course, but what’s the point?

  15. Wokers of the world unite.

  16. Worker Organizing and Empowerment? WOE. Are they trolling us?

    woe [wō] NOUN, literary: great sorrow or distress

    1. Worker Organizing in Manufacturing Businesses

  17. Sleepy Joe Biden can fix this. Senility is a virtue.

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    1. Think of how much you could be making if you joined the bot union.

  19. Reason, the great Biden supporter, seems to be beginning to see maybe Joe was not the best choice, You have to look hard through all the nice, flowery, benign language, (nothing like they used with Trump), but it is starting to show through. Just rember Reason, you backed Joe all the way!

    1. The only other choice was the former president who waged actual war on the United States. What were they going to do, support him?

      1. Obama wasn’t running. So no worry there.

  20. Should just call it what it is, a Democrat party money laundering scam.

  21. Gotta keep those campaign contributions rolling in.

  22. Don’t you need an ID to vote in a union election?

  23. When Orwellians speak, their words are Orwellian.

  24. None of you even know why you hate unions.

    You’re not complaining about a lack of personal life choices available to workers. Every single restriction imposed by an employer is perfectly fine with you. There are conditions of employment for literally every job on earth. These arguments are disengenuous.

    Do you guys have any honest arguments for any of the trash things you support? Is it all just bullshit? Why would you support a philosophical regime that requires you to assert false arguments at almost every single turn?

    1. Goddamn, you’re an idiot. I don’t want to be forced to join a union just to work somewhere. If I don’t like a particular employer, I will go elsewhere. Or run my own business.

      I’m ok with unions in the private sector, as long as membership isn’t compulsory. If a union is worth the dues, people will join voluntarily. Often it’s not. This is why labor corporations (unions) want the government to stack the deck for them.

      You’re the one who doesn’t understand their own position, not us.

      1. I’m sure free workplaces will take your opinion under advisement when their owners and workers gather to decide their own contractural arrangements without government forcing them into one in service of insane ideological horseshit.

        You don’t know what you’re for or against. You just know what baboon tribe has the wrong color assholes, and that you hate that color.

        This article is talking about a characterization of a mission of a government agency. Whoopsi fucking do.

        Republicans have passed laws all over the country forbidding workplaces from entering into certain common collective bargaining contracts. That is the only government restriction on anyone’s freedom going on here, and you don’t give a fuck about it because you’re dumb and don’t know what you’re talking about.

        1. Tony, please let me know of a specific example where someone was forbidden from creating a union.

          I’ve seen both. The biggest change on the ground is that union plants are very territorial. You can’t just fix something. You need to call out maintenance to do it. You can’t change a lightbulb. You need to put in a work order. Things that a non-union plant fixes in 15 seconds can take 6 hours in a union shop. These sort of rigid lines between personnel provide no benefit to anyone aside from guaranteed hours. It also sets everyone up in opposition to each other unnecessarily. There was no meaningful difference in salary or benefits, and safety was actually better at the non-union plant (though I attribute that to specific personnel rather than anything to do with the union).

          It seems like you are the one reflexively supporting a position without experiencing both sides, or at least without explaining why you think unions are so great.

        2. Tony, you just repeat meaningless propaganda drivel. I tried to explain things to you, but again, you’re too stupid and deluded to understand. You should leave America before you make it necessary to relocate you to a landfill.

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