Unbundling the Labor Union
Here is my Labor Day op-ed, from the New York Times. A fuller, law-review treatment of the subject will be available in the Yale Law Journal in October. The abstract to that piece is as follows:
Public policy in the United States is disproportionately responsive to the wealthy and the traditional response to this problem, campaign finance regulation, has failed. As students of politics have long recognized, however, political influence flows not only from wealth but also from organization, a form of political power open to all income groups. Accordingly, as this Essay argues, an alternative to campaign finance regulations are legal interventions designed to facilitate political organizing by the poor and middle class. To date, the most important legal intervention of this kind has been labor law, and the labor union has been the central vehicle for this type of organizing. But the labor union as a political-organizational vehicle suffers a fundamental flaw: unions bundle political organization with collective bargaining, a highly contested form of economic organization. As a result, opposition to collective bargaining impedes unions’ ability to serve as a political-organizing vehicle for lower- and middle-income groups.
This Essay proposes that labor law unbundle the union, allowing employees to organize politically through the union form without also organizing economically for collective bargaining purposes. Doing so would have the immediate effect of liberating political-organizational efforts from the constraints of collective bargaining, an outcome that could mitigate representational inequality. The Essay identifies the legal reforms that would be necessary to enable such unbundled “political unions” to succeed. It concludes by looking beyond the union context and suggesting a broader regime of reforms aimed at facilitating political organizing by those income groups for whom representational inequality is now a problem.