UC Irvine Law Review, Vol.4, No.1, 2014, Forthcoming
50 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2013 Last revised: 3 Sep 2014
Date Written: September 2, 2014
Do labor unions have a future? This Article considers the role and importance of labor union structures, in particular the degree of centralization in collective bargaining, to the future of labor unions. Centralization refers primarily to the level at which collective bargaining takes place: whether at the plant, firm, industry, or national level. The Article examines the historical origins of different structures of bargaining in the United States and Europe, the important implications that centralization has for economic productivity, and the ways that various labor law rules reinforce or reflect different bargaining structures. Most critically, the Article contends that greater centralization of collective bargaining entails a broader, more "universal" representation of worker interests, has a stronger impact on unions' ability to lower income inequality, and, through its positive effects on economic productivity, reduces employer opposition to unionization in the long run. Although centralized bargaining is a medium- to long-term goal, the Article proposes ways that unions can change their own organizational structures, bargaining objectives, and organizing tactics to position themselves for future changes in bargaining structure and to avoid the pitfalls of the decentralized bargaining structures of the past.
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