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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press George Will Comes Out Against Freedom of Contract

George Will Comes Out Against Freedom of Contract

Sunday, 19 January 2014 09:07

George Will took a strong stand against freedom of contract in his column today. Usually freedom of contract is viewed as a pillar of a market economy, but Will apparently objects to this freedom when used by workers.

The specific context is the issue of whether public sector workers can sign a contract that requires all the workers who receive the benefit of union representation to share in the cost of this representation. Under the law, if a union represents a bargaining unit, then it must represent every worker in the unit, regardless of whether the worker supports the union or not. This means that the union not only secures the same wages and benefits for all workers in the unit, it also must represent all workers in any grievance or disciplinary action taken by the employer, even if a specific worker does not support the union.

Since the law requires unions to represent all workers, they have often sought contracts that require all the workers in a bargaining unit to pay a fee to cover the cost of this representation, even though they still have the option not to join the union. It is this contract requirement that draws Will's ire, claiming that it violates the first amendment rights of workers who do not support the union.

It is worth putting Will's complaint here in a larger context. If a worker is employed by Koch Industries, Will would certainly argue that the Koch brothers could take the gains from their stock in the company and use it for supporting right-wing political candidates or whatever purpose they want. He would even argue that the company could directly spend its profits on supporting right-wing candidates, as allowed under the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. In fact, he would say that Koch could require the worker to attend a right-wing rally and yell support for their causes as a condition of employment.

Will would say that none of these actions by the Koch brothers violate first amendment rights because the worker has the option not to work for Koch Industries. For some bizarre reason he is unwilling to apply the same logic in the context of contractual obligations put in place by fellow employees.

In others words, Will is fine with any conditions that employers want to impose as a condition of employment, but somehow sees it as a first amendment violation if co-workers sign a contract that imposes conditions of employment. This is denying workers the right to freedom of contract.

Comments (5)Add Comment
That wasn't actually his main argument
written by Bill H, January 19, 2014 9:55
His main point was that home care workers should not have been declared public employees. They do not work for the public, they work for individuals and are often relatives of the individuals. They were previously considered to be recipients of benefits in behalf of the people whose care they provided. They were declared public employees as a political favor to the SEIU.

He then goes on to make some rather silly points, long since debunked, about their "right to represent themselves," but that's just George Will not knowing when to shut up.

He didn't go into any silly statements about the workers right not to work for the employer, which has nothing whatever to do with labor laws and as argument for inclusion or not in labor organization is a total non sequitur.
False Choices, False Equivalency
written by Last Mover, January 19, 2014 10:19
Will would say that none of these actions by the Koch brothers violate first amendment rights because the worker has the option not to work for Koch Industries. For some bizarre reason he is unwilling to apply the same logic in the context of contractual obligations put in place by fellow employees.

Let's see, consider for context this comment from the recent column by David Brooks on inequality:
"For the first time ever, according to Forbes magazine, the 400 richest Americans have more than $2 trillion in combined wealth. And, a fifth of that amount is held by just 10 individuals.

Of those top 10 richest Americans, six hail from two families—the Kochs and the Waltons—who are destroying our economy and corrupting our politics."

Yes, George Will would say a worker has the option not to work for the Koch Brothers or the Waltons wouldn't he.

It's the bread and butter language of a columnist so blinded by an ideology designed to support economic
predators, he is no longer capable of seeing the economic world that lives and breathes before his eyes.

George Will might as well say Americans also have the choice not to:

Use the internet.

Use electricity.

Use tap water.

Use sewer services.

Use health care.

Use NSA services.

Use DOD services.

Use roads.

Use big box stores.

Use ... the list goes with the vast amount of choices to not use something from a particular provider or
not work for a particular employer ... because there are just so, so many alternatives available aren't there George Will.

Surely, in the interest of confirming equivalency between available choices and free market competition, George Will will soon have a column out on how those people in West Virginia always had the choice not to use that water didn't they.

After all, any fool can see that clean water was easily available from the free market at $10/gallon, so what's the problem? That's still cheaper than what a private hospital gets for water isn't it, and it gets you a full hand wash to rinse off the prior poison just bathed in doesn't it.

America, give thanks to George Will for the reminder - you still have choices among the predators to become a Koch or Walton and control your own economic destiny like they do. Stop your whining and make them.
FLSA Exceptions
written by Aaron, January 19, 2014 11:16
How much of the problem originates with the FLSA exception that results in many home health care workers receiving sub-minimum wage compensation?

Perhaps we can avoid the entire argument of whether it's honest to characterize home health care workers whose wages are paid entirely by the government insurance as "government employees", or whether it's "fair" to require workers to pay union dues if they would prefer not to be represented by a union, and instead start removing the exemptions to laws like the FLSA that, due to anachronism and intense lobbying, deprive many low-wage workers of basic legal protection.

We seem to be finally starting a discussion of whether we should be providing wage supports to full-time workers whose employers are choosing not to pay them a sufficient wage to supper themselves and their families. I wonder where Will would come down on the question of whether it's better that an employee pay a living wage to an employee, or if it's better that an inadequate wage be supplemented by various tax credits and forms of public assistance.
Rights for me, not for you
written by Jennifer, January 19, 2014 11:21
"They actually are employees not of the government but of the care recipients, who hire the caregivers and determine working hours and conditions."

Yes they work "for" care recipients but they are paid by the state, and working hours are generally set through state regulations.

"So what is the point of a union in these circumstances?"

Well I guess George Will can count himself as lucky if he is not familiar with caregiving but it is demanding work for those who do it, as well as those who have to find the people to do it. If we as a society want to say we are taking care of the most vulnerable that should extend to those who take care of them, both in terms of making a decent wage and having decent working conditions.
Will seems to think that because home care workers are in the home, and not all at the same workplace, that they should not be able to organize. But we have home care workers because people are choosing to live at home as an alternative to an institution. It's also common for the state to organize workers in institutions that are not "state" institutions but non-profits funded entirely by the state. What the difference?
written by Thomas Bub, January 21, 2014 9:57
It astounds me that anyone still reads or listens to this clown who has been oh so wrong on oh so many issues, especially Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, inequality, workers rights, unions, offshoring accounts to avoid taxation and on and on infinitum. Really, is there no accountability for being so wrong or just an inability to admit it.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.