Workers’ Rights as Natural Human Rights
81 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2017
Date Written: April 24, 2017
We live in an increasingly polarized world: one summed up by President Clinton, “we’re all in this together;” the other summed up by then-presidential candidate Trump, “I alone can fix it.” These world views have implications for workers and how the future workplace is ordered. In this Article, I explore the idea that a natural human rights approach to workplace regulations will tend to favor the we’reall-in-this-together view, whereas the Lochnerian or neoliberal view tends to favor an individualistic world view.
The Article’s six-step analytical approach starts with a historical analysis of labor law jurisprudence, concluding that U.S. labor laws must be filtered through a law-and-economic lens of U.S.-styled capitalism to predict the outcomes of legal disputes and to expose human rights infirmities inherent to that approach. In step two, I explore T.H. Marshall’s account of citizenship, concluding that Marshall’s rights-based rubric is too limited to fully explain workers’ rights, which tend to cut across the full gamut of human rights. In step three, I expand upon Marshall’s work to build a framework for evaluating workplace laws based on the worker as a citizen of the labor force who has human rights. I do this using two methodologies: (1) comparative legal analysis between U.S. law and international human rights standards; and (2) jurisprudential analysis of fundamental values within a rights-based framework. In step four, I modify John Rawls’s famous thought experiment to include a veil of empathy. In that modified experiment, I conclude that participants in the original position behind a veil of empathy would generate values underlying human rights, namely autonomy (to become part author of one’s work life) and dignity (to be treated as a person always as an end and never merely as a means). In step five, I apply this human rights approach to show that workers’ and employers’ interests conflict at the interests-level and, more fundamentally, at the values-level. I conclude that these conflicts are primarily over the distribution of that which labor and capital create. This distributional question is fundamental a question of moral and political justice, which will and does have real political consequences. In step six, I set forth a path along which this research project should explore.
Keywords: Labor Law, Employment Law, Jurisprudence, Human Rights, Natural Law, Positive Law
JEL Classification: K31, J50, J53, J8, J80, J81, J83
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation