Is it slavery for union workers to work alongside nonunion workers?

The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) filed a lawsuit claiming that Indiana’s right-to-work law violates the 13th Amendment, which states that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude…shall exist within the United States.” The union claims that:

The Defendants have exacted compulsory service and/or involuntary servitude from the Union through the combination of the passage of the Right to Work law and the existing federal requirement of the duty of fair representation. Through these laws the Union is compelled to furnish services to all persons in bargaining units that it represents, but it may not require payment for those services because of the Right to Work law.

Right-to-work laws prevent unions from forcing workers to pay union dues. The IUOE argues (with a straight face) that this is akin to slavery.

Never mind that the Supreme Court has ruled that unions are free to write contracts that cover only dues-paying members. They do not have to give services to nonmembers. So why is the IUOE fighting tooth and nail against Indiana’s law?

Unions do not want nonunion members to write their own contracts. They want to bargain for nonmembers so they can force them to work on the union’s terms. As a recent Heritage report explained:

Consider seniority systems: They ensure that everyone gets raises and promotions at the same rate, irrespective of individual performance. If a union negotiated a members-only contract with a seniority system, high-performing workers would refuse to join. Those workers would negotiate a separate contract with performance pay. The best workers would get ahead faster, leaving less money and fewer positions available for those on the seniority scale. The union wants everyone in the seniority system—especially those it holds back.

Unions’ interest is to compel workers to unionize—and then force them to pay for it. Unions can limit their contracts to those who pay membership dues. The real issue is whether unions can coerce nonunion workers into unionizing.