Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin and now Indiana are refusing to show up and vote on union-related legislation because they are afraid the bills will pass. Their absence prevents their respective legislative bodies from having a quorum and thus being able to conduct business. In various ways they have said their purpose is to protect collective bargaining “rights,” which are actually legal privileges, for public-sector workers.

Ironically, the collective bargaining regimes they are defending generally recognize no right to walk away from union bargaining tables. Refusing to bargain in good faith with a union subjects offenders to charges of unfair labor practices and possibly legal sanctions. Where parties reach impasse, the law typically requires a mediator who can impose, if necessary, a final agreement. In other words, no one walks out on a union.

Lawmakers who walk out of their legislatures are exercising an ability the unions they support deny to everyone who sits across the table from a union. What’s at stake in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and other states is not so much worker rights as it is the maintenance of a system of privilege whose power flows from the ability to force parties to negotiate with unions, even against their will.