Enabling Employee Choice: A Structural Approach to the Rules of Union Organizing

74 Pages Posted: 21 Jan 2010

Date Written: January 19, 2010


The proposed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) has led to fierce debate over how best to ensure employees a choice on the question of unionization. The debate goes to the core of our federal system of labor law. Each of the potential legislative designs under consideration - including both “card check” and “rapid elections” - aims to enhance employee choice by minimizing or eliminating managerial involvement in the unionization process. The central question raised by EFCA, therefore, is whether enabling employees to limit or avoid managerial intervention in union campaigns is an appropriate goal for federal law. This Article answers this foundational question in the affirmative. It reaches this conclusion by conceptualizing federal labor law in terms of legal default rules, drawing in particular on the preference-eliciting default theory of statutory interpretation and the reversible default theory from corporate law. Doing so leads to the argument that card check, rapid elections, and similar mechanisms are best understood as “asymmetry-correcting altering rules” - means of mitigating the impediments that block departure from the nonunion default. Understanding EFCA in this way also requires that we ask how such an altering rule should be constructed. This Article addresses this institutional design question by arguing that card check’s open decision-making process is flawed and that rapid elections, while an improvement over the status quo, are an insufficient method of mitigating the relevant impediments to employee choice. Accordingly, this Article offers two new designs - alternatives to both card check and rapid elections - that would accomplish the legitimate function of minimizing managerial intervention while at the same time preserving secrecy in decision-making.

Keywords: Labor Law, Unions, Union Organizing, Default Rules, Altering Rules

JEL Classification: J5, K31

Suggested Citation

Sachs, Benjamin I., Enabling Employee Choice: A Structural Approach to the Rules of Union Organizing (January 19, 2010). Harvard Law Review, Vol. 123, No. 3, p. 655, 2010, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1539123

Benjamin I. Sachs (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1525 Massachusetts Avenue
Griswold 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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