Bernie Sanders wants to bring democracy to the workplace.
Well, at least that’s what his new labor plan intends to do. Labor Day is past us, but 2020 presidential candidates used the lead-up to this holiday to put forward their demagogic labor plans. Like his presidential campaign in 2016, Bernie Sanders is using his current presidential run to advance his ideas of activist government.
After rolling out his Workplace Democracy Plan, Sanders has positioned himself as the pro-worker candidate of the 2020 elections. This plan has earned him praise from Barry Eidlin, a writer at Jacobin Magazine, who described Sanders’s labor platform as “the most serious, comprehensive, and equitable plan for promoting workers’ rights ever proposed by a major US presidential candidate.”
What makes many labor activists enthused about Sanders’ plan is its abolition of right-to-work laws and the consolidation of public sector unions.
Let’s begin with right-to-work. In an ideal world, the National Labor Relations Board and the many labor laws it enforces would not exist. Instead, employees and employers would be free to associate and negotiate working conditions on a voluntary basis. However, the NLRB isn’t going anywhere and the federal government has not made any effort to get out of the business of regulating labor.
Faced with these realities, certain states have taken matters into their own hands by passing right-to-work laws, which gets rid of the payment of union dues as a condition of employment. These laws are present in 27 states. This reaffirms the time-honored principle of freedom of association and allows workers to make their own choices without being coerced by unions.
Such policies not only deny politically-connected unions funds but also tend to create more dynamic economic environments for workers. Right-to-work states tend to outperform union states in areas related to private-sector job growth and the increase in disposable income for workers. However, under Sanders, all of this could come crashing down like a pile of bricks.
But that’s not all.
Sanders wants to reinvigorate public sector unionization by signing the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act of 2019 which would “guarantee the right of public employees to organize and bargain collectively for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.” This sounds great and all, but public-sector unions are a totally different animal. Unlike their private-sector union counterparts, public sector union negotiations always involve a third-party—taxpayers.
Their standard operating procedure is to hold taxpayers hostage with the sole intent of raking in as many government benefits as possible. All at the taxpayer’s expense. States like California have already been brought to near fiscal collapse because of these policies. A national public-sector unionization plan would only magnify this problem and put more taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities.
In a time when American workers have witnessed major labor freedom victories such as Janus v. AFSCME — which re-asserted First Amendment rights by protecting non-union government workers from having to pay union fees as a condition of working in public service — Sanders’ labor plan would be a step backward for American workers. The key to enhancing the prosperity of America’s working classes is by increasing economic freedom, not government control.