New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

Document Type

Article

Abstract

The decline of unionization rates in private companies, while at an especially low point below 10% in the U.S., is a worldwide phenomenon, hastened by the emergence of global labor and product market competition. The dilemma for public policy is that while strong unions can promote worker voice and economic participation, they do so in a manner that harms firm performance where all companies competing in the same product market are subject to the same union standards. Global markets make it increasingly difficult for unions to pursue traditional redistributive goals, bringing to the fore an alternative model of workplace representation that emphasizes pursuit of objectives that do not undermine firm profits. Although global labor standards are often suggested as a means of improving the ability of U.S. workers to compete on a “level playing field” with workers in other countries, this approach is not likely to succeed if developing countries are to pursue their competitive advantage as lower-cost producers. Rather, the path for U.S. public policy should be two-pronged: (1) strengthening the protections for workers seeking collective representation, while (2) removing disincentives in current institutional arrangements that retard the evolution of unions as integrative bargaining agents.

Date of Authorship for this Version

October 2008