Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy finds himself in an awkward situation.
The president of the sports website caused a massive meltdown on Twitter when he criticized the staff of competing website, The Ringer, and their decision to vote on unionization. For some, Portnoy’s post went a bit too far.
Soon a mob of left-wing journalists started to reach out to Barstool employees and inform them of their unionization rights. This provoked a firm response from Portnoy who threatened to fire Barstool employees if they tried to unionize.
Knowing Twitter, Portnoy’s anti-union stance was met with even greater backlash. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made sure to take advantage of the situation by claiming Portnoy’s threats to fire employees were illegal. Killing two birds with one stone, she was also able to fundraise off of this incident. Now, the National Labor Relations Board is investigating Portnoy for illegally threatening to fire his staff if they decided to unionize. Talk about a total whirlwind of events.
Media noise notwithstanding, Portnoy is in the right, even if he did violate an arbitrary labor law. Freedom of association is a cornerstone of America’s classical liberal foundation. That means employers are free to hire and fire people as they see fit. They’re also within their rights to reject unionization schemes.
Unfortunately, this concept has been turned upside down since FDR’s New Deal was enacted. In this package of government interventions was the creation of the National Labor Relations Board which oversees all matter concerning labor laws. Apart from its traditional oversight role, the NLRB has granted labor unions tremendous power.
Labor unions served a purpose in the 19th century by raising awareness of the squalid working conditions present in many workplaces. However, thanks to market innovation and increased productivity, many of these conditions have been eliminated as the economy has modernized and workers didn’t have to break their backs in the workplace as they did before. Now, unions have become political appendages that extort dues from workers, engage in political violence and intimidations, and line up the coffers for pro-union politicians.
Bureaucracies like the NLRB only magnify this trend by micromanaging the private decisions of businesses and giving unions a bureaucratic fallback option to impose their will on employers.
Given that New York, the state where Barstool’s operations are based out of, is not a right-to-work state, Portnoy will have his hands full as union pressure will mount against him. One good aspect of the Trump administration is that Trump’s judicial and NLRB nominees have been solid on the issue of unionization. Portnoy may be able to catch a break after all.
Nonetheless, this case shows that union intimidation is alive and well in many solidly Blue states in America. Employers and employees alike will continue to face considerable harassment if these political forces are left unchecked.