Three Concepts of Workplace Freedom of Association

58 Pages Posted: 22 May 2015 Last revised: 9 Sep 2016

See all articles by Brishen Rogers

Brishen Rogers

Georgetown University Law Center; Roosevelt Institute

Date Written: December 22, 2015


This Article identifies three distinct concepts of workplace freedom of association (“FOA”) and traces their influence on labor law doctrine, focusing on the law of union security devices — contractual clauses that require workers, on pain of termination, to remit fees to unions. The “social democratic” concept informed the passage of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA” or “the Act”) and continues to inform social movement practice and some other countries’ jurisprudence. It views workplace freedom of association as a means to the end of ensuring economic equality and economic democracy, and generally endorses the so-called “union shop,” under which workers must contribute both to unions’ representational activities and to their legislative and organizing efforts. The “civil libertarian” concept was predominant in Supreme Court doctrine from the Warren Court era until recently. It emphasized individual rights of expression and political participation, and backstopped the line of cases declaring the union shop unlawful but requiring workers to help defray representational expenses. The “neoliberal” concept now appears ascendant. It views market behavior as a form of expressive behavior, and views compulsory payment of any union fees as unconstitutional. Disaggregating these concepts can enrich debates around workplace freedom of association in three ways. First, doing so illustrates that determining the scope of workplace freedom of association involves contestable value judgments about the goods and ends of unionization and association. Second, doing so illustrates that the Supreme Court’s recent union security cases reflect broader trends in the Court’s recent case law that constitutionalize a neoliberal political economy. Third, doing so suggests that the social democratic concept is both more coherent and more morally compelling than the civil libertarian concept, and may help it regain a foothold in debates around workplace freedom of association.

Keywords: Labor Law, Freedom of Association, Harris v. Quinn, Neoliberalism

Suggested Citation

Rogers, Brishen, Three Concepts of Workplace Freedom of Association (December 22, 2015). Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, Forthcoming, Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-29, Available at SSRN:

Brishen Rogers (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

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Washington, DC 20001
United States

Roosevelt Institute ( email )

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New York, NY 10022
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