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Red-Blue America: Should union organizing be a civil right?

Unions deserve the same rights as their rich colleagues — corporations

Before we answer the question of whether union organizing should be covered as a First Amendment civil right, let’s consider who has seen such rights affirmed or expanded in recent years.

  • Corporations. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, corporations are now guaranteed the First Amendment “free speech” right to spend as much as they want to influence political campaigns. The ruling triggered a fierce backlash, but it remains in effect.
  • Hobby Lobby. The craft store may not have a soul of its own, but it is free to ignore federal laws that conflict with its owners’ religious beliefs, including the mandate that employers offer birth control as part of any health insurance plan they offer employees.
  • The rich. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court struck down limits on how much an individual can spend during a campaign cycle, deeming the previous $123,000 limit an infringement on America’s essential freedoms.

What, exactly, would be the justification for leaving union organizers off this list? Aside, of course, from naked partisanship and class warfare waged from above.

Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Z. Marvit originated the idea of treating unionization as a civil right several years ago in a New York Times op-ed.

 “Some might argue that the Civil Rights Act should be limited to discrimination based on immutable characteristics like race or national origin, not acts of volition,” they wrote. “But the act already protects against religious discrimination. Some local civil rights statutes even cover marital status, family responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, source of income, or place of residence or business.”

Corporations, in the end, are groups of individuals who have banded together for a specific purpose — usually profit. Unions are the same thing. They deserve the same rights as their richer colleagues. Of course union organizing is a civil right.

Joel Mathis ( is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine.