Should the Right to Unionize be in the New Social Compact?

If you’re former President Obama the answer is yes, and he said so during his farewell address.

For those unfamiliar with the definition of a Social Compact (like I was), here’s the definition that Google gave me:

an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits, for example by sacrificing some individual freedom for state protection. Theories of a social contract became popular in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries among theorists such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as a means of explaining the origin of government and the obligations of subjects.

This was not the first time Obama endorsed the right to unionize, free from employer involvement. He uttered it at the 2009 AFL-CIO Convention and again when running for re-election in 2012. He won both with organized labor’s strong support. But union leaders have said, both privately and publicly, that Obama never followed through by pushing the cause. Nonetheless, there he was, on the cusp of turning over the presidency to Donald Trump, likely after he and Michelle he inked a book deal worth more than $60 million, when he made a final plea to the American people:

The laid-off factory worker, the waitress or health care worker whose just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills. Convinced that the game is fixed against them. That their government only serves the interest of the powerful. That’s a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.

Now there’s no quick fixes to this long-term trend. I agree, our trade should be fair and not just free. But the next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good middle class jobs obsolete.

And so we’re going to have to forge a new social compact to guarantee all our kids the education they need. To give workers the power to unionize for better wages. To update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now….

It was at this point, he was interrupted by cheers and applause.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him