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SCOTUS May Undermine Labor Unions Based on a Profound Misconception
Free riders choose to reap the rewards of a public good without paying their portion of the cost necessary to produce it.
It’s another very big year at the Supreme Court. After saving Obamacare and opening marriage laws to same-sex couples last June, the justices are set to resolve questions involving affirmative action, abortion, religious liberty, immigration, and voting rights over the next five months. But the most transformative decision may well come in Friedrichs v California Teachers Association, a case that threatens to unravel the way that public-sector unions in half of the country do business.
Twenty-some states have “agency shop” laws for their public employees whereby the government negotiates contracts with police officers, teachers, and firefighters via unions that represent all workers in these sectors. To make this situation viable, these states permit unions to charge “fair share fees” to workers who opt not to join their ranks. These fees support the collective bargaining unions undertake on behalf of union members and non-members alike. A 1977 Supreme Court decision blessed this arrangement, but allowed unions to collect fees from non-members only to support negotiations over wages, benefits, and workplace rules; any political campaigning or lobbying the union wishes to undertake, the Court held, may not be charged to non-members lest workers are compelled to pay for the dissemination of positions they reject.
In Friedrichs, 10 California teachers are contesting the distinction between collective bargaining and political activities. They are urging the Supreme Court to overturn the 1977 ruling and jettison all mandatory fees for non-members. Any time a union presses for smaller class sizes or higher teacher salaries, they say, it is taking a controversial position on a matter of public concern. No teacher who disagrees with those positions should be compelled to support them with their pocketbooks. It is a violation of their right to freedom of speech, the dissenting teachers say, to force them to pay these fees.
There are reasonable arguments on both sides of this dispute (which I sketch in a pair of posts at The Economist), but one query during the January 11 oral hearing suggests that the Supreme Court may be ready to upend nearly four decades of mandatory “fair-share fees” based on a profound misconception about the collective action problem known as free ridership. "Free riders,” in short, are people who choose to reap the rewards of a public good without paying their portion of the cost necessary to produce it. A classic example is people who find ways to avoid paying taxes despite making liberal use of taxpayer-funded goods like roads, police protection, and public schools. Or think of polluters who breathe clean air and drink clean water made possible by everybody else who hews to environmental rules. Another example you might relate to: public-radio fans who never pledge to their local NPR station during the semi-annual fund drives.
During the Friedrichs hearing, Edward DuMont, the lawyer for California, argued that mandatory fees enable “a workable system, both for our employees who overwhelmingly have shown they want collective bargaining, and for the ... school districts, or of-state agencies who ... have the practical problem of reaching an agreement that will govern” public-sector workers. Here Chief Justice John Roberts chimed in:
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: If your employees have shown overwhelmingly that they want collective bargaining, then it seems to me the free-rider concern that's been raised is really insignificant.
Mr. DuMont had a persuasive rejoinder to the chief: “Because many people can want something in the sense they view it as very advantageous to themselves, but if they are given a choice, they would prefer to have it for free, rather than to pay for it. This is a classic collective action problem.” Indeed. Mr. DuMont continued:
“So from the employer's point of view, when we're going to have collective bargaining, we want one union to deal with. We want that union to deal with all employees. And so we require it to represent all employees fairly, whether they supported the union or not. They might have supported the rival unions. They might be in favor of unionism, but they supported a different one. But once the majority has said this is our representative, then that is going to represent all employees. And it's important then, from the employer's point of view, that that representative be adequately funded and stably funded, so that they can work with us or work with the employer to reach actual progress.”
The error in Chief Justice Roberts’ naive argument against free-ridership is clear: He assumes that making fees voluntary will have little effect on union membership. After all, they overwhelmingly want collective bargaining! But if teachers could get higher wages and better benefits without paying their union a dime, it stands to reason that many would make the individually rational decision to do so. If you have a hard choice between paying your kid’s college tuition bill and paying an optional fee to your union, you may well find it tempting to take a little advantage of the union (hey, you could always rejoin next year!) and divert your resources toward your child’s future. It’s fine if one or two people do this. But if many do, the union loses the very funds it needs to do the work of collective bargaining and the whole enterprise implodes. This is just what has happened in states like Wisconsin and Michigan, where laws have radically undercut the power of labor unions. Five years after Wisconsin governor Scott Walker all but eliminated collective bargaining in his state, union membership has fallen precipitously and the labor movement has been “crippled,” according to one report.
There are, to be sure, teachers so committed to their union that they will pay into the union no matter what. Likewise, there are some teachers with ideological views that clash with those of the union that bargains for them. They may have principled reasons for not joining and for wishing to be free of required non-member dues. But for the majority of teachers, the economic bottom line is likely to prove most influential. The conservative justices may find it convenient to put their heads in the sand and speculate otherwise, but the implications of undoing a regime that has worked well for nearly four decades will not be mild. If mandatory fair-share fees are found to be unconstitutional, many will decide not to pay their fair share and the labor movement in America’s public sector will suffer mightily.
Steven V. Mazie is Professor of Political Studies at Bard High School Early College-Manhattan and Supreme Court correspondent for The Economist. He holds an A.B. in Government from Harvard College and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Michigan. He is author, most recently, of American Justice 2015: The Dramatic Tenth Term of the Roberts Court.
Image credit: shutterstock.com
Follow Steven Mazie on Twitter: @stevenmazie
Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?
Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.