Douglas Williams on The Unbundled Union: Politics without Collective Bargaining

Published January 6th, 2014 -  - 01.06.14


Douglas Williams has a great post up on Talking Union that critiques my Unbundled Union essay.  William’s post is definitely worth a read.

A few very quick points.  One, it’s worth saying, as Williams does, that my proposal for “political unions” is meant as a means to mitigate the representational inequality – that is, the political inequality – that lower- and middle-income Americans currently suffer.  Whether or not workers who join political unions would embrace the traditional goals of the labor movement, increasing their political voice would be a victory for political equality.  Two, the argument in the Essay is not that management wouldn’t oppose political unions; sometimes it would.  Williams notes that management is more likely to oppose political unions if those unions push for economic goals, but, even so, such opposition would be less intense than is opposition to collective bargaining unions (for reasons the Essay explains).   More importantly, the existence of opposition to progressive economic policy does not imply that political unions could never secure economic policy goals.  The examples the Essay gives of contemporary union efforts that resemble political unionism – SEIU Local 880’s homecare campaigns, to take one – involved explicitly economic goals.  Three, and related, Williams reads me as arguing that things like paid sick leave are “anti-competitive.”  The argument in the Essay, though, is that this is true to the extent that paid sick leave is required of some firms in a market but not others.  Because a paid sick leave law would sweep in far more firms than a collective bargaining agreement, the sick leave law will be less likely than the CBA to disadvantage some firms vis-a-vis others, and thus less likely to inspire opposition.  Finally, as Williams also notes, my argument “does not imply that workers should not also have a collective voice in the workplace” and “the proposal . . . is meant as a complement to, rather than a substitute for, efforts to rethink collective economic representation at work.”

You can find my Yale Law Journal Essay here, and the NYT op-ed version (“A New Kind of Union”) here.

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