Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Restrictions on Bargaining Are Not a "Right to Work"

Republicans in the state legislature of Michigan have come together this week to institute new prohibitions on the freedom of contract in their state. These new state-mandated prohibitions would put certain restrictions on people's right to bargain and sign contracts reflecting the outcomes of such bargaining. Republicans often portray themselves in opposition to big government regulations of the economy. However, when it comes to putting new restrictions on the type of contracts that can be arranged between free and consenting adults, they always seem to forget they are against big government. See also "tort reform."
Prominent Example of Big Government Interfering with Freedom of Contract
For some reason, many prominent reporters and news commentators have decided to refer to the legislation in Michigan as a "right-to-work" law. I guess newspaper editors decided it would be a good idea to try to confuse their readers as much as possible. Instead of calling the legislation "restrictions on bargaining," "new prohibitions on the freedom of contract," or an anodyne (albeit somewhat vague) term like "economic regulation," they settled on a term that does nothing to illuminate the underlying law it is meant to describe.

If you asked any normal person what "the right to work" means, I believe they would say a guaranteed right to be employed. As with the right to free speech, there would probably be some limited restrictions on the right for practical reasons, but in general, if an individual was willing to work, they would have a right to be gainfully employed. That's actually a great idea! But it is an idea that bears no resemblance at all to the legislation favored by Republican legislators during the post-election Lame Duck Session.

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