March 18, 2021

Would You Like to Be Free to Choose, or Forced to Join? – with George Leef [Ep. 63]

Would You Like to Be Free to Choose, or Forced to Join? – with George Leef [Ep. 63]

Creating good relationships between employers and employees is essential to productivity and success. Who should decide how those relationships are managed? Should workers be forced to join unions, even if they do not want to do so? Should they be forced to pay union dues, even if they do not join? What about the freelance worker? Should they pay dues? Right to Work laws have expanded freedom for workers to choose whether or not they want to join a union. However, those freedoms are now in peril as congress considers legislation that would eliminate choice for employees, freelancers, and others working in the gig economy. How will this affect you? George Leef, policy expert and author of Free Choice for Workers: A History of the Right to Work Movement, discusses with Linda the negative implications of the PRO Act, currently being considered in congress. If you want to keep your workplace freedom to choose, listen today!

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Linda: Today, I have a very important topic to discuss, and a very knowledgeable guest, George Leef.  Leef is the Director of Editorial Content for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Carroll College in Waukesha, WI. and a Juris Doctorate degree from Duke University School of Law. He was a vice president of the John Locke Foundation, until 2003. Prior to joining the Lock Foundation, Leef was president of Patrick Henry Associates, a consulting firm in Michigan, dedicated to assisting others in advocating free markets, minimal government, private property, and individual rights.  Previously, Leef was on the faculty of Northwood University in Midland, MI., where he taught courses in economics, business law, and logic. He has also worked as a policy adviser in the Michigan Senate. A regular columnist for, George Leef was the book review editor of the Freeman, published by, the Foundation for Economic Education, from 1996 to 2012. He has published numerous articles in The Freeman, Reason, The Free Market, Cato Journal, The Detroit News, Independent Review, and Regulation. He writes regularly for the National Review: The Corner Blog and He has also written a book, Free Choice for Workers: A History of The Right to Work Movement, and I invite you to pick up a copy wherever books are sold. With that in mind, I welcome you, George. Thank you for taking time to be with us today.  


George: My pleasure, Linda.


Linda:  While I’ve been watching the Pro Act make its way in Congress, and paying attention to this legislation, I thought of you, your book, and your knowledge with Right- to -Work Law, and in a sense, pro-worker ideology.  So, I really wanted to reach out to you. Thank you for taking the time today. This important topic will affect people all across this nation and really across the world, because what affects America in terms of our freedom and liberty affects the entire world. They look to us to be the example for freedom, but Congress is planning soon to vote on a piece of legislation that would drastically alter labor relations in the United States and unfairly punish both employers and employees.  This piece of legislation known as, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act or Pro Act, will be put to a vote, where it is likely to pass in the House. We hope that our listeners will do what they can by writing and calling their elected officials to oppose this legislation both in the House and Senate; but before doing so, we hope to give them some education. So, before we begin on that, I'd like to help them get to know you a little bit more.  I've read about your background.  I know you come from Wisconsin. I know some members of your family. Your brother, Jim Leef, is the one who introduced me to your book originally. It's a pleasure to talk with you on this because we share some very passionate ideas about Right- to-Work legislation and Right-to-Work laws within America. So, how did you first get into this? I mean, growing up in Wisconsin, how did you first get into this whole area of public policy?

George: I'd say, it was my grandfather’s influence. Back, when I was just a teenager, early teens, he started giving me things that he thought I should read.  I remember, in particular, he was a supporter of the National Right to Work Committee. He did give me the newsletters from National Right to Work.  He'd also given me, The National Review and books that he'd gotten. He got me started in thinking about the importance of individual freedom, free enterprise, the rule of law, and individual rights, back when I was just a youngster. 


Linda: That is really inspiring, especially as a grandmother.  I love the fact, that your grandparent is one who inspired you. So, to all the Grandmas and Grandpas out there, don't be afraid to share who you are. Actually, it's interesting, because I had my first introduction into politics from my Grandfather. He was a speechwriter and a candidate for assembly here in Wisconsin. However, right after the primary, he died from a stroke. He was also a newspaper journalist.  I read all his writings as a young child and I read all of his books at very young ages. It's just a testament to the importance of family legacy and grandparents. So, that's great.  


George: Oftentimes, grandparents plant seeds of good ideas, or sometimes I guess bad ideas, but in this case good ideas, that will eventually live on after them. 


Linda: That's great. So, then what?


 George: So, you want to know how I got interested in this. Well, I went to law school and eventually decided that the legal profession wasn't going to be my cup of tea, exactly. Among the courses I took, there was a course on labor law.  In that, I learned a lot about the National Labor Relations Act and I also learned, not from the course itself, but from outside reading, what was wrong with the National Labor Relations Act.  I happened to come across, a very famous writer on labor law, when I was taking the labor law course at Duke, Sylvester Petro. He was a critic going way back of the National Labor Relations Act. He taught over at Wake Forest, so he wasn't that far away. I never met him, but he wrote a lot about the evils of compulsory unionism and why it is wrong- not only bad policy, but unconstitutional for the federal government to do what it has done in the realm of labor relations.  So, I kept those ideas with me for quite a long time. When I worked in Michigan, in the state legislature, we sponsored a bill that would have given workers in Michigan… we knew we couldn't quite get all the way to Right -to- Work in Michigan at that time, this was the early 90s, but we wanted to give them more freedom to opt out of compulsory unionism. So, we sponsored a bill, and we invited a fellow who worked for the National Right to Work Committee, Mark Mix, to come to Michigan and help us get it drafted and talk it up.  I got to know Mark in the early 90s. Years later, when Reed Larson who founded the National Right to Work Committee, retired, Mark was chosen as his successor. Then, in about 2003, Mark Mix called me up and said we are planning on having a book on the history of the Right to Work Movement, and we’d like to have it ready to release on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the National Right to Work Committee, which would have been in 2005.  He asked me if I wanted to write the book.  I said, yes, I'd be delighted to write the book. So, with the aid of volumes of material from the National Right to Work Committee, what I put together was my book, The History of the Right to Work Movement: A Free Choice for Workers, and it was published in 2005. I don't think you could buy a copy in most bookstores, but you maybe can find one online if you want to read it. What I did was, I gave the history of the reaction against compulsory unionism, which had been spawned by the National Labor Relations Act.  It goes way back to the 1940s, when workers, and this is really quite important, workers who were union members were some of the earliest supporters of Right- to-Work laws, because they did not want to be forced to remain union members. In one case in particular, there were railroad union workers and their companies signed a deal with the railroad union, saying all workers must henceforth be members of this union.  That aroused a lot of opposition, even from people who enjoyed the union. They wanted the freedom to leave it, if they thought it no longer represented their interests. These railroad workers were some of the earliest supporters of Right-to-Work laws. The states that past them earliest, as I recall, Florida in 1944 and Arkansas the same year, passed laws saying, we're not going to enforce these contracts whereby union members are compelled to, where companies that have unionized, can compel their workers to support the union and if the workers want to drop out, we won't enforce the deal that would require them to be fired. That's of course one of the things that Big Labor insists upon. These union security agreements, whereby, workers have to be let go if they don't pay their union dues. The Right- to Work Law, says, no, we're not going to enforce that.  In our state, we allow workers the freedom to choose if they want to be union members they can, but they cannot be fired if they don't want to be. Well, then in 1947 Congress passed the Taft- Hartley Act, which was a reaction against the excesses to some extent, at least, of The National Labor Relations Act. The Taft- Hartley Act, gave the federal stamp of approval to states enacting Right- to- Work on legislation saying, as Florida and Arkansas had done, that workers who don't want to pay union dues, won't or can’t be fired just for that reason. So, quite a few states then passed Right-to-Work laws, many of them in the South, but not all in the South. Iowa passed Right-to -Work in the late 40s. Now, I'm trying to think of some of the other states, Arizona did. It started in the South, but then other states began to realize that workers deserve this freedom.  They deserve the freedom to get out of unions if they decided the union was not in their best interest. Quite a few workers have done that. A lot of workers have thought, you know, I pay a lot into this union, and I don't think I'm getting much out of it, and a lot of what they use my money for are things I disapprove of, and therefore, I think I should have an escape hatch.  You know, the people who support, who want to get rid of Right-to-Work, they always say, well, they’re pro-choice, but they're not pro-choice when it comes to workers making their own decisions about their own money, and who will represent them. That's why I think the Right-to-Work, is essential that it be defended, otherwise you're going to have many more workers being dragooned into unions, forced to pay money, and of course unions will then turn around and use a lot of that money to support their friends in Congress who passed this law. That's why I think defeating the Pro Act is really important. We've been in this position before. Big Labor has wanted to eliminate Right-to-Work for a long time. They've tried over and over again and came very close on several occasions to repealing it. They came very close in 1966 and again in 1977, where just by the narrowest of margins, the Repeal Acts were defeated. This is nothing new. This is what you expect anytime you have a Democratic Pro-Labor, it's actually pro-union, union-boss hegemony in Washington.


Linda: It's amazing. It seems like it just repeats. It's the same story, over and over and over again. It's less freedom for the workers and more power for the union bosses and for big government.


George: Yes.


 Linda: They just repackage it every time. In an era where we have the overused term, “cancel culture”, I've started thinking of it as “word gymnastics”, as they twist, tumble and flip flop words to make them sound like they mean something they don't. The Pro Act is a perfect example of that. It’s packaged as something that's supposed to be so positive, but in turn it would actually be very negative. 


George:  Yes, it really will take away the freedom that workers have, to say, look, this union isn't working for me, I'm leaving. That's one thing that helps make unions more responsible where the workers do have the freedom. The people who run the unions have to keep in mind that if they take too much in the way of dues, if they become too politicized, then workers can start dribbling away, and say; nope, we're leaving, we don't want any part of you.  That's something that any organization should have to think about, what if we make our base unhappy.  When you get rid of Right-to-Work, the union officials don't have to worry about that any longer.


Linda:  Right, because they have all the power. Well, I want to just talk about a few high points of this Act and why people who love freedom, would want to oppose it. The Pro Act would do a number of things among those eliminating workers’ right to choose, whether or not they join a union, and pay union dues by prohibiting Right-to-Work laws. Basically, this Act would negate all the Right-to-Work laws that we've all worked so hard to bring forth, correct?


George:  Yes, that’s exactly what they want to do. Big Labor supported the Democrats. They always have, because they expect something in return. What they don't get in return here, is the crushing of the freedom that workers currently happen to have in Right-to-Work states; to say, no, I'm tired of you, I don't think your work, you're spending my money, I don't think you’re in my interest. I think the this is the old game we've had so often of trying to take away freedom for the benefit of elites.


Linda:  Right, it's like rinse and repeat over and over again.  Another, negative aspect of this legislation, would be the banning of secret ballots for unionization votes, which would expose employees to threats and coercion to vote in favor of a union. We've heard many examples of this over the years.


George: Yes, we have. The unions do not have any compunction about threatening and intimidating people to get their support. Lying to them in some instances, threatening them, or harassing them.  That's why we need secret ballots and we need secrecy among the workers. To be able to intimidate people these days, it's easier than ever to intimidate people through cancel culture and online harassment. The unions want to have that power so again they can more easily win these representational elections. That's all this is about. It’s more power for the union movement, less freedom and less privacy for the workers themselves. 


Linda: Exactly. Another aspect is that it’s essentially eliminating the workers ability to be an independent contractor. There are many people now, who are independent contractors, especially in the age of covid-19. We've had to pivot and redirect how we work, but this would result in really negative consequences for people who rely on the gig economy; everyone from Uber, Lyft drivers to freelance writers, graphic designers and many independent workers in the construction industry or others. This really eliminates the ability for workers, in a sense, to choose their own destiny, and their own way of making a living.


George:  Yes, there’s very little concern from the supposedly Pro-Choice Democrats, for people who just want to run their own lives, have their own businesses, and make their own choices. What they want to do is, corral people as much as possible into unions. Then, of course, the unions will extract their money from these workers and use it to help elect their friends in politics. It's really a very authoritarian system that they want, to take away freedom of choice from people, and say, you can only work if you go through the unions. That's un-American.


Linda: Yes. It’s very un-American.


George:  It's very un-American. Liberal, in its original and true meaning of favoring liberty, this is a very illiberal idea.


Linda:  Right. It would impose the equivalent of a gag order to prevent employers from speaking to employees about implications of unionizing; so that then, only the union can speak to employees on the matter.


George: Yes. That ought to be thrown out without any question, as a violation of the First Amendment.  People have a right to speak about matters that affect their business, just like they have a right to speak about matters of politics. This is a blatant assault against the First Amendment. It shouldn't surprise anybody because freedom of speech is no longer of any importance to the American left. They only want speech heard that they agree with and that supports their point of view.  To tell people, that they cannot speak to workers about a matter of mutual concern, ought to put up a huge red flag that this is a constitutional violation.


Linda:  Absolutely.  I understand it would prohibit arbitration. In a sense, it really eliminates the attorney client privilege for communication between employers and legal professionals, that these employers rely on, to be educated about, in terms of these issues. This legislation, which is H.R. 2474 in the House, would damage not only the ability of employees to be properly informed, but also the ability of employers to communicate with and inform their employees about their workplace matters. So, like you said, it really interferes with the First Amendment rights. It interferes with arbitration and interferes with the legal rights of both parties. In turn, I imagine, this would actually end up costing the American public so much more, because as legal bills mount and the cost of doing business mounts, this becomes something that is inevitably passed on to the consumer.  This is something that's not really mentioned in terms of the actual legislation, but as we look, everything has a reaction. Every action has a reaction and there's a ripple effect to this. When we have these overarching big government, limited freedom for the people, types of initiatives, we are really marching down a negative path for our country.


George:  Yes, almost every kind of legislation has some hidden costs. This would have a mountain of hidden costs. It's not just the loss of freedom, but it will interfere with business efficiency and productivity. It will also strengthen the forces that are basically opposed to free enterprise in the United States. It would like to have much, much, more government control over business.  That's why they want the worker to have to pay dues, even if he doesn't want to be part of the union. What this comes down to, they want to extract money from you even if you don't think that their services are worth paying for voluntarily. 


Linda:  Right. Many times, people are opposed, as you mentioned earlier in the episode. They’re opposed to what the union spends money on.  It’s kind of like, as a taxpayer, when we’re opposed to what our tax dollars are being spent on. We need to let our elected officials know that we don't agree with that, but union members, have in some cases, had the choice, in these Right- to-Work states. They've had the choice to opt out, to not be a part of a union, and not have their money spent on things they don't agree with, but now that takes away that choice.


George:  It takes away their choice, except in the National Labor Relations Act, it is possible for workers to decertify a union and get out of it, that way-completely. The unions make it very difficult to decertify and it really shouldn't be.  We shouldn't force workers to go out on a limb, make targets of themselves, by saying, I'm supporting a petition to get rid of this union. Nevertheless, quite a few workers do that. Quite a few unions are decertified, but you shouldn't have to go all the way to decertifying the union completely, for a worker to say, look, I just want out. That should be a basic work freedom. If you wanted to leave any other kind of organization you can just say, I'm leaving, I’m no longer paying … but we don't allow that with regard to unionization. 


Linda: Interesting. You mentioned the National Labor Relations Act, which has been in place for over 85 years, and has protected interests of employers and workers but unfortunately the Pro Act would really negate and basically disregard decades of progress that's been under this…


George: Well, the National Labor Relations Act was written by, and for, Big Labor under FDR's administration. It set the tone for Labor Relations ever since. It's very authoritarian. It's the law that Professor Sylvester Petro said, was an abomination, and it ought to have been declared unconstitutional. It almost was by the way. When the Supreme Court, first heard an argument in a case about the National Labor Relations Act, it was ready to declare it unconstitutional. That was in 1936, but they didn't rule on it until after the 1936 election. After Roosevelt was reelected in a landslide, he put out his famous threat to pack the court. The very first case, the next year, 1937, was when they actually re-heard the case.  Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes switched his vote in order to support the National Labor Relations Act. It really should have been declared unconstitutional, as being beyond the powers of Congress back in 1936, and it's too bad that it wasn't. Nevertheless, it's been on the books since 1937. There's a lot of case law about it, which at least in some respects protects worker’s rights but the Pro Act is going to undo as much of that as they think they can get away with.


Linda: It's very frightening actually. We've talked about opposing this Act and I hope that the listeners will call and write. It's important to write, because it puts it into a permanent record for the elected officials; so, it is important to email or write. Please, let your voice be known that you oppose this. It's one thing to be against something. So, what should we be for?  When we're talking about what we don't agree with this, and people say, well, you don't care about the worker, or you don't care about employers, or you don't care about right policies in the workplace,  how do we respond to those people? What points would you really love to see the listeners support both at the state and federal levels?


 George: Well, I don't know if it's been reintroduced this year, but in previous Congresses there has been a National Right to Work Act introduced. That's the way we should go, instead of eliminating the protection for freedoms in Right-to- Work states, what we should do is expand the freedoms to all workers in all states. They should all have the freedom to say, I'm not going to pay dues, and you can't fire me. That's what it comes down to.  They should all have that right. So, if you want to support, not just oppose, but support, let your legislators know that what you do support is National Right to Work. Now, you could even go further than that. The real key to all of this, is a provision in the National Labor Relations Act, exclusive representation. This is the part of the law that says, if a majority votes in favor of a union, then all the workers must accept the union as their exclusive representative for as long as that union exists. If we really wanted to make a statement for freedom in the United States, we would get rid of that part of the National Labor Relations Act. In fact, I think we should do away with the National Relations Act entirely and leave it up to the states to decide what kind of labor relations law, if any, they would have. If we get rid of exclusive representation, then no worker, would have to be or could be compelled to accept a union against his or her will. That's really the linchpin of all of this.  If we could pull that out, that would return American labor law to the realm of freedom where it was before we passed this terrible law in 1935. 


Linda: That's an excellent point. We can oppose things, but we should always offer a positive alternative. So, you are telling listeners, to let their elected officials know that they would support a National Right to Work Law.


George:  Yes, support the National Right to Work Law. Let all the workers, in all the states, have the same freedom to opt out of compulsory unionism. There's nothing great about compulsory anything. We say, no to compulsive religion in this country. Why should we allow compulsory unionism? We shouldn't. It should be a matter of individual choice.


Linda:  Exactly. Having that freedom here in America, really sets a tone for freedom for workers all over the world. As we look at countries who are so oppressed, the workers are so oppressed, they look to America as the example, and when we limit worker freedom, we are helping them to lose hope actually. We want to be the standard bearer for freedom.


George: We should be the beacon for freedom, and instead, ever since we passed the National Labor Relations Act, this country has not been a beacon for freedom with respect to worker rights.


Linda:  Exactly. This is really informative and if people would want to learn more, I know they can get your book, Free Choice for Workers: A History of the Right to Work Movement, written by George Leef, online. So please, see if you can find a copy there. To follow your current writings, how would they get in touch with you or what website do you recommend they go to?


George:  Well, for a long time, my main job has been doing higher education policy. I've been with what is now known as, The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, ever since 1999. You can find us online at and you'll find that I've written a great deal about what's wrong with American higher education on our website.  I also blog on The Corner. If you go to, The Corner, you'll probably find some of my recent thoughts as well.


Linda:  I really recommend that people do go over to the James G. Martin site because you have some very insightful articles there especially regarding higher education and even free speech.  We're talking about First Amendment Rights here in the workplace, but maybe you could touch a little bit on free speech, and higher education a little bit before we close.


George:  The two things dovetail. The people who want omnipotent government, don't like free speech when it comes to the labor setting. They like controlled speech, only speech that has the messages they approve of. The same thing is now true shockingly throughout higher education, where you find that people who want to talk or write about limited government, private property, capitalism, anyone who says those things, is a target for the cancel culture, for being labeled as a racist, being fired, there have been quite a few cases where professors have been terminated or lost funding simply because they said things that irritated the academic left. It's really the same issue. If you say things that irritate the left wing, the First Amendment should defend you but it's increasingly unable to do so.


Linda:  Yes, it's actually quite frightening. It's something I have watched evolve over decades. It's been something, that 40 years ago people were saying, it's coming, it's coming it's coming, but actually, now it's here.  


George: What’s behind this is just like a criminal testing to see well how much can I get away with?  What’s the security like here? If they get away with stealing once, they'll get bolder and bolder and bolder. Well, that's what's happening with regard to freedom of speech. They found that the enemies of free speech have found; hey, we can get away with a lot of cancelling, a lot of censuring of people we don't like. The more they get away with it, the bolder they'll become. Nobody calls them out. Almost no American college presidents rebuke the students and faculty members who are trying to stifle freedom of discussion on their campuses.


Linda:  Well, I noticed in one of your recent articles, you mentioned some of the cases that are being represented through Alliance Defending Freedom, some of the free speech cases on college campuses.  I so appreciate the work of Alliance Defending Freedom.  I tell people, please go to the Alliance Defending Freedom website. They have just incredible information about protecting our rights.  You wrote specifically about one of these free speech cases, where this young man, really just wanted to share his faith with some students. He was sent to a safe zone and then he still was not able to really say what was on his mind.


George:  This was a case at a public college in Georgia. The college told him, that to speak freely about his faith, he would have to do so in a very small free speech zone, and he'd have to get written permission for a certain time to use it. Well, he actually did that; he abided by their speech stifling rules, but then once he started speaking, somebody complained, and if anybody complains, then that triggered the college to say, well, now you've disturbed the peace, you're disruptive- as long as anybody complains for any reason. So, they told him, you can't do this. He stopped very politely, but he found legal support from Alliance Defending Freedom. They took his case to a Federal Court where it was dismissed as moot, because the school had said, we will just change our policy then, so we won't actually have any decision on the merits against us. The District Court in Georgia upheld that, and so did the Court of Appeals, the 11th Circuit, but the case went to the Supreme Court. A decision just this week, eight to one, with Justice Thomas writing the decision, they upheld the students and rebuked the attack on freedom of speech by this college. That was the case where A.D.F. fought the good fight and got the good result.


Linda:  Yes, and it was great.  So, thank you for highlighting that case, and highlighting their work. They're doing such important work, as are you. We all just try to do what we can. So, to listeners, you may not be able to do everything, but you can write your elected officials. Write your representatives in Congress, write your Senators, and please ask them to oppose the Pro Act, and to support Right to Work Laws, on a national level, as well. Contact your state legislators too and ask them to support the Right- to-Work laws in their state. I thank you so much for being here. Do you have anything else to add or tips for employers who would like to be able to speak to their employees about these issues in a way that won't get them in a court case?


George:  Your freedom to speak is quickly eroding. You should probably, if you want to stay on safe ground, I would say, contact and write to, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. They have a very good staff of attorneys who can assist you in knowing exactly what you can say, and what you better not say, to avoid as much trouble as possible with the National Labor Relations Board.


Linda:  Well, I would just like to encourage people, don't let the left or people who want this power and authority over our lives, don't let them silence you, because when we do that they win. Just like this young man, they were trying to silence him, but because he chose to continue to respectfully stand up for his rights there was a victory for many people.  Sometimes we have to push the envelope. Now you said, that they are constantly pushing, they're constantly moving the goal post. We need to push back on that goal post and move it backwards. We need to take back that territory and we need to be bold and unafraid. We have the constitution behind us. On top of that, we have common sense in a lot of these things, as we've watched Dr. Seuss get cancelled and most people say, you've got to be kidding me, right?  We can take this back, but we have to move, because as we mentioned before, this has been in process for decades. We are at a point, of close to no return. So, it's time for all Americans to step up to the plate and speak up for freedom.


George:  Yes, we need to launch a counterattack against the anti-freedom, anti-capitalist, anti-constitution movement.


Linda:  Absolutely, absolutely. We are on the side of freedom, so we need to be bold and speak up. So, with that in conclusion, I want to thank you so much, for taking time with us and sharing your expertise. I invite people to visit the website for, the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, and look up George Leef.  There, you can see his writings, you can read about his book and follow him. Then, like he said, go to the National Right to Work, website for more information about what can, and cannot be said in the workplace. I mean, we want to promote our policies and our constitutional principles in a way that will be advantageous. We never want to do it in a way that would be negative. We certainly don't want to control choices for other people, we just want to make freedom and choice available for all.


George:  Precisely.


Linda:  Exactly. So, thank you again. I’m so glad you could join us.


George:  My pleasure.