Employment Law as Labor Law
64 Pages Posted: 27 May 2008
Date Written: 2008
Seventy years after Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the scholarly consensus is that American labor law has become ossified. As I have argued elsewhere, however, while the NLRA is undoubtedly dysfunctional, the blockage of this traditional channel for collective action has led not to ossification, but to a hydraulic effect: unable to find an outlet through the NLRA, the continuing demand for collective action has forced open alternative legal channels.
This article explores the first of these new channels, which I name employment law as labor law. The article presents detailed accounts of collective campaigns in which workers turn to employment law, in particular the Fair Labor Standards Act and Title VII, as the legal architecture that facilitates and protects their collective activity. This legal architecture, provided here by employment statutes, is one we conventionally call labor law.
Drawing upon and moving beyond these descriptive accounts, the article offers a theoretical model that explains how employment law's individual rights regime can galvanize, insulate, and generate workers' collective action. By revealing employment law's capacity to foster collective action, moreover, the article provides a new way of understanding the relationship between labor law and employment law. The model developed here disputes the claim that labor and employment law constitute distinct - and inimical - regulatory regimes.
Finally, the article contends that employment law's ability to foster collective action invites future inquiry into the possibility for a great trade in labor law reform: a new regime that provides strong safeguards for the early stages of collective action but retreats from the cradle-to-grave regulation that has defined, and ultimately undermined, the NLRA.
Keywords: Labor Law, Collective Action
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