From Faster Than 20

Collaborate is about co-labor — working together. Understanding the nature of work is an important part of understanding collaboration. Work is also central to all of our lives, and as such, the nature of work and of workers is critically important to society’s well-being.

Precarious Work

Temp workers, day workers, folks with multiple employers, etc.

Labor in the U.S.

Current model has been in place since 1935 National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act.[1]

  • Enterprise-level bargaining. At least 30 percent of workers within a workplace petition to be represented by a union. NLRB sets time and place for election. If majority votes yes, they form a union.
  • Unionized workers enjoy higher wages and better benefits than non-union workers.
  • According to Princeton economist Henry Farber and Harvard sociologist Bruce Western, unionized companies have added fewer jobs over time than non-union companies. This has led to decline in union membership between 1970s and 1990s.
    • Unions most successful in stagnating or shrinking industries (e.g. manufacturing, transportation, etc.)
    • Increase labor costs for employers, who then hire fewer workers

Top Employers

What percentage of country works for public sector?

What percentage of country works for health care?

Union Membership

mid-1950s A third of Americans belonged to a union.[1]
2016 10.7% of Americans belong to unions.[1] (In 2017, 6.5% of private sector workers, 34.4% public sector workers. Latter has held steady, but public sector’s share of workforce overall has declined since the 1970s.[2])

According to Thomas Kochan, William Kimball, and Alex Hertel-Fernandez's presentation, "Worker Voice in America: Current State, Opportunities for Innovation, and Implications for Labor Policy," a presentation for Economic Policy Institute on July 23, 2019, percent of nonunion workers who would vote for a union

  • 1977, 33%
  • 1995, 32%
  • 2017, 48%

Labor Law

Clean Slate Project is working to re-envision labor law to give workers more power.

1935 Wagner Act guarantees the right to strike. Labor’s greatest means of leverage.

1947 Taft-Hartley amendments undercut the Wagner Act. Placed numerous restrictions on unions. Gave states the ability to pass right-to-work laws, which prevent unions from requiring that all employees join a union / pay dues. This enables employees to be “free riders.”[3]

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

  • Protects employees against discrimination based on race, national origin, sex, and religion
  • Areas that may give rise to violations include recruiting, hiring, promoting, transferring, training, disciplining, discharging, assigning work, measuring performance, or providing benefits
  • Applies to employers in both the private and public sectors that have 15 or more employees. It also applies to the federal government, employment agencies, and labor organizations.
  • Could use a private right of action (right to sue even though it’s not explicitly provided for by law) to expand Title VII to include the right to organize and participate in unions.

Duty of fair representation

  • Unions are required to represent all employees fairly without discrimination

Co-enforcement of labor laws

  • Gives unions the ability to partner with government to enforce labor laws

International Labor

  • Union membership declining in France, but almost every worker there covered by collective bargaining agreements. Results less than optimal: High labor costs, frequent strikes, low labor-force participation rate, slow growth.[2] Low membership means unions can’t always negotiate the best deals.[1]
  • Nordic states have also seen decline since early 1990s, but membership is still high, and percentage with collective bargaining coverage even higher.[2] As of 2013, more than 2/3 of workers were union members.[1]

Sectoral bargaining — Unions bargain for all workers in an industry, not just a single company.

  • Matthew Dimick has helped popularize the idea in the U.S. with his paper, “Productive Unionism.”
  • Possible to achieve state-level sectoral bargaining in U.S. via wage boards, which operate similarly to European sectoral bargaining. Six states (NY, MA, ND, CA, NJ, and CO) have laws authorizing them. Wage boards helped organizers win a $15 minimum wage.[1]

Ghent system. Unions hold main responsibility for welfare payments. Results in higher membership, because people need to be members to receive benefits.

  • Nordic states are Ghent system countries. Unions administer unemployment with help from government subsidies.[2]
  • This helps get around the “free riders” problem and keeps union membership high.[1]

Works council

  • Represents workers as a complement to unions
  • Different names and forms in different countries
  • In Germany, unions create national labor agreements, and works councils work with companies to adapt them to local circumstances.

Labor parties