Sunday, 22 April 2012


Ken Berwitz

1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

What you have just read is the thirteenth amendment to the constitution of the United States.  Passed at the end of the Civil War, its intent is as plain as day.   No slavery, no indentured servitude.

Now, what does it have to do with the union movement?  Well, I can make a weak, but at least minimally viable argument that it might be invoked in states without so-called "Right To Work" laws.   

"Right To Work" laws, which currently exist in about half (23) of the states, prevent labor agreements which force all workers to join unions and pay union dues.  An argument can therefore be made that in the 27 states where it is legal for unions to negotiate "closed shops" in which all workers must join a union whether they want to or not, workers have been forced into involuntary servitude.  It's a weak, lame argument, but it does have at least a small degree of credibility.

But wait:  that is not how the thirteenth amendment is being invoked.

Incredibly - absolutely unbelievably - the thirteenth amendment is being invoked in the "right to work" state of Indiana!.  A union contends that if workers are free to decide whether they will join, the union itself was forced into involuntary servitude on behalf of the non-joiners. 

Read that again.  Make sure you digest every word.  And then please trust me when I say it is no typo.  That's for real.

Here, I'll show you via the following excerpts from David Martosko's article at

In a lawsuit against three Indiana government officials, a labor union alleged on Wednesday that its constitutional rights under the Thirteenth Amendment which outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude are violated whenever its members are forced to work alongside nonunion employees.

Indianas law prohibits employers from making union membership a condition of getting or keeping a job. The unions February lawsuit claimed the law violated its members Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law.

But an amended complaint filed on Wednesday added a Thirteenth Amendment claim as well. The new lawsuit suggests that when nonunion employees earn higher salaries and better benefits because of the unions negotiation on behalf of its members, the union has been forced to work for those nonunion employees for free.

Got that?   If you work at a shop that has union members, and the shop offers you the same deal as union members get, the union has involuntarily been forced to work on your behalf. 

Shaking your head in amazement?  I don't blame you. 

But that's the lawsuit.  So let's consider not just the upside (i.e. the union got workers a better deal) but the downside (the union didn't do as well as, say, other unions do).

For example:  

-If you are a non-union worker who thinks the union negotiated poorly and should have gotten another $1 an hour for its workers, does this mean the union should pay you the additional money?  You're stuck with its bad deal, aren't you?   

-Or if you think the union got too few sick days for its workers, should the union compensate you if you get sick and exceed the maximum?  After all, you're stuck with the same number of sick days, aren't you? 

-Or if the union's latest deal raised pay and benefits to where the company was forced to lay off some of its workers, should only union members be laid off? Non-members didn't force the company's hand this way, did they?

Simply stated, the thirteenth amendment union ploy may well be the single most asinine attack on right to work legislation I have ever seen. 

But stay tuned:  if this can be put in a lawsuit today, then something even more asinine can certainly be put in one tomorrow.  Records were made to be broken.

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