Agency and Coercion in Labor and Employment Relations: Four Dimensions of Power in Shifting Patterns of Work
University of Pennsylvania Journal of Labor and Employment Law (Currently University of Pennsylvania Journal of Business Law), Vol.4, No. 1, Fall 2001
74 Pages Posted: 13 Jan 2017
Date Written: 2001
The boss is the boss, and yet, this paper argues that the course of power in the workplace setting is more complex and multidimensional than a flat hierarchy/coercion, horizontality/agency alignment. The article explores different patterns of work and production and the possibilities for worker organization and employee voice in various settings. The article first maps the arguments and reasoning regarding collective bargaining and employee participation from two perspectives -- efficiency, including productivity, profitability, macro- efficiency and growth, and legitimacy, including intrinsic values of membership, self-fulfillment, equitable power distribution, and the work arena as a learning process for the broader structures of society. As I unpack the genres of scholarship dealing with these questions, I emphasize two findings. First, I show how both economists and critical social theorists are divided in their accounts regarding the desirability of either of the two institutions-- collective bargaining and employee participation. Second, I describe how, even though there are very similar patterns of argumentation regarding each of the two modes of worker organization, collective bargaining and employee participation are depicted as sharply distinct and often mutually exclusive institutions. The two modes are often relegated to different industries, times, economies, and perhaps most strikingly, "types" of workers. The article then explains how legislators and courts have traditionally constructed the prohibition of coercive mechanisms through a narrow vertical understanding of work-related power relations. I argue that a more comprehensive conception of such relations, vertical, horizontal and internal, requires us to rethink the language and interpretation of central labor and employment laws.
Keywords: Labor and Employment Law, Collective Bargaining, Employee Participation, Worker Organization, Coercion, Labor Laws and Legislation
JEL Classification: A00, A10, K10, K31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation