There was a story in the New York Times over the weekend that describes how a company named Regis Corp. has asked its employees to sign a document stating that the employees ‘revoke’ any union membership card they have signed or may sign in the future. Regis Corp is that company that runs low end hair-cutters like First Choice and Magic Cuts, as well as “Hair Club for Men”, the ‘hair restoration’ company. The letter employees were asked to sign said the following:
In order to preserve my right to a secret-ballot election, and for my own protection, I knowingly and without restraint and free from coercion sign this agreement revoking and nullifying any union authorization card I may execute in the future.
Laughably, the company claims the documents are completely voluntary, as if a hair cutter will tell the employer to get lost when asked to sign here. It’s not clear if the document is intended to form a term of the employment contract, since there does not appear to be any new benefit going to the employee (no new consideration, for my employment law students). In any event, it is almost certainly a violation of American labour laws, so would be unenforceable even if were intended to be a contract.
In the old days, before labour relations legislation, companies in Canada and the U.S. often included as a condition of employment that the employee sign an agreement that they would not join a union. These were called ‘yellow dog contracts’. But that practice was long ago banned once the governments of both countries recognized unions and collective bargaining as legitimate and beneficial processes.
In Ontario, for example, this practice would be banned by Section 72(b) of the Labour Relations Act, which prohibits an employer from imposing:
any condition in a contract of employment or [proposing] the imposition of any condition in a contract of employment that seeks to restrain an employee or a person seeking employment from becoming a member of a trade union or exercising any other rights under this Act
What do you think? Should employers be able to include a term in employment contract requiring renouncement of union membership? Some economists, including Richard Posner, have argued in the past that ‘yellow dog’ contracts aren’t objectionable on the theory that the employee would presumably receive some benefit in exchange, such as a higher wage. Do you see any problems with that argument?