Organizing with International Framework Agreements: An Exploratory Study
UC Irvine Law Review, Forthcoming
56 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2013 Last revised: 13 Nov 2014
Date Written: November 12, 2014
In the United States, union density continues to decline, while income inequality increases. But while union density falls we have experienced the counterintuitive rise in international framework agreements (IFAs), or agreements signed by global union federations (“global unions”) and multinational corporations. IFAs can be construed to contain employer pledges not to oppose workers who want to organize. Can a global employer’s pledge not to oppose workers’ organization facilitate their unionization? I interviewed union and multinational firms in the private security and auto industries that signed IFAs to better comprehend how IFAs can help to organize workers.
The results of this study show that organizational inroads with IFAs could vary from nonexistent to very modest, even with the employers’ pledges not to oppose unionization. Economic, political, and legal obstacles seem to significantly hinder union organization even when the employers sign IFAs.
However, all of these organizational inroads considered here only involved the contemporary American form of collective worker representation, the so-called “exclusive representation” union. IFAs offer workers the promise to organize something different: minority unions with full strike rights. These novel working-class organizations, which American unions could experiment with, would help to restore some level of workplace representation for workers. Lacking strong rights in U.S. law, IFA-sustained minority unions would need to significantly depend on global solidarity. But these IFA-supported organizations, while capable to fight the boss, would be built on cooperation. They should enable mature industrial relations to flourish. While far from entirely resolving labor’s woes, minority unions with full strike rights and backed by global solidarity can provide a new platform to help reorganize the American working class in the twenty-first century.
Keywords: unions, international framework agreements, IFA, global union federations, labor law, international labor law
JEL Classification: K30, K31, K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation