Who is a Worker? Partisanship, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Social Content of Employment
56 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2014
Date Written: February 9, 2012
In opinions addressing whether graduate students, medical residents, and disabled workers in nonstandard work arrangements are employees under the National Labor Relations Act, I analyze partisan differences in how National Labor Relations Board members, under the previous two US presidents, confronted the contradictory permeation of wage-labor into relatively noncommodified relationships. I argue that Republicans mediated the contradictions by interpreting indicia of employer property rights as status authority. They constructed employment as a contractual relationship consummated through exchange relations and demarcated a nonmarket social sphere in which to locate the relationships before them. This construction suppressed the class dimension of employment and the connection between relations of production and relations in production (Burawoy 1979). Democrats mediated the contradictions by recognizing them in part and arguing that the workers were engaged in commodity production. They proposed the Act as a means for workers to negotiate “differentiated ties” (Zelizer 2005) in nonstandard employment.
Keywords: employment, nonstandard work, labor law, NLRA, economic relationships, ideology, partisanship, commodification
JEL Classification: A14, K31, P16, L23, J59
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation