Case 8.5 Union Discrimination
THE NATIONAL RI GHT TO WOR K LE GAL DEFEN SE Foundation is one of several anti- union organizations
that have been active in recent years. The “ right to work,” in this context, means the alleged right of an
individual to work without being obliged to join a union or pay union dues. To put it the other way
around, it means that companies cannot sign contracts with unions agreeing to hire only workers who
are willing to join the union or at least to pay the equivalent of union dues. What follows is one of the
Foundation’s advertisements, titled “ Job Discrimination . . . It Still Exists”: Paul Robertson is not a
member of a persecuted minority. But he has experienced blatant discrimination all the same because he
has chosen not to join a union. Paul Robertson is a working man, a skilled licensed electrician with more
than twenty years’ experience. He found out the hard way how a big company and a big union can
discriminate on the job. Paul was hired by the Bechtel Power Corporation to work on their Jim Bridger
Power Plant project in the Rock Springs, Wyoming, area. Only three months later, he was fired,
supposedly because of a reduction in force. But during the week preceding his discharge, Bechtel hired
at least nineteen union electricians referred by the local union and retained at least sixty- five
unlicensed electricians. A determined Paul Robertson filed unfair labor practice charges against the
company and the union. An administrative law judge ruled and was upheld by the full National Labor
Relations Board that the union and the employer had indeed discriminated. The judge ordered that
Robertson and seven other electricians be given the back pay they would have earned if they had been
treated fairly. The NLRB later reversed part of its decision, but Paul Robertson did not give up. With the
help of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, he appealed the Board’s decision to the U.
S. Court of Appeals, arguing that hiring hall favoritism is discriminatory and unlawful. Paul Robertson was
fortunate. He found experienced legal help— all important because the case dragged on for nearly four
years in the courts and the union still refused to obey the NLRB’s back- pay order. The National Right to
Work Legal Defense Foundation is helping everyone it can— currently in more than seventy- five cases
involving academic and political freedom, protection from union violence, and other fundamental rights.
But it would like to do even more. If you’d like to help workers like Paul Robertson write to: The National
Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. . . .
DI SCU SSION QUE STION S
1. Assuming the Foundation’s description of the case is accu-rate, was Paul Robertson treated unfairly?
Was this a case of discrimination? If Robertson was an “ at- will” employee, does he have any legitimate
grounds for complaint?
2. Does it make a difference to your assessment of the case whether someone like Robertson knows,
when he accepts a job, that he must join the union or that non- union employees will be the first to be
3. If union employees negotiate a contract with manage-ment, part of which specifies that management
will not hire non- union employees, does this violate anyone’s rights? Would a libertarian agree that the
resulting union shop was perfectly acceptable?
4. Presumably Paul Robertson could have joined the union, but he chose not to. What principle, if any, do
you think he was fighting for? Assess the union charge that people like Paul Robertson are “ free riders”
who want the benefits and wages that unionization has brought but try to avoid paying the dues that
make those benefits and wages possible.
5. What do you see as the likely motivations of Bechtel Power and the union? How would they justify
6. Why did the Foundation run this ad? Is the ad anti- union propaganda? Do you think the Foundation is
sincerely interested in the rights of individual workers? Or is it simply interested in weakening unions
vis- à- vis management?
7. Assess union shops from the moral point of view. What conflicting rights, interests, and ideals are at
stake? What are the positive and negative consequences of permitting union shops?
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