Unions: Freedom of Coercive Association?

By Gary M. Galles, FEE.org

One of the core tenets of unions is that they are a legitimate application of workers’ constitutionally-protected freedom of association, so that anything that restricts unions violates that freedom of association. As Brenda Smith of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) put it, “Exclusivity for a union with majority support is not a monopoly, it is democracy . . .  It allows employees to select their representative freely, without coercion from the employer. It allows them to amplify their voice through collective action under our constitutionally protected right to freedom of association.”  Unfortunately for exponents of that argument, freedom of association does not endow the association with more powers than the members had as individuals.

For instance, an individual has no power to prevent someone from taking their job if they choose not to work, and freedom of association offers a group of workers no more power to do so. But government has given unions a host of special privileges, from monopoly representation to strike powers to exemptions from antitrust laws and union liability for member violence. Freedom of association does not justify these special privileges; in fact, they are inconsistent with freedom of association.


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