51 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2019

See all articles by Michael M Oswalt

Michael M Oswalt

Northern Illinois University College of Law

Date Written: September 6, 2019


Union organizing strategies often become collective bargaining strategies. The latest organizing trend is “alt,” short for “alternative-labor” and invoked where unions or non-profits mobilize workers for better working conditions but not necessarily membership. The efforts are difficult to define with specificity, but through-lines exist: alt-labor’s constituent groups are marked by three non-standard relationships to law that generate exceptional conceptions of group membership, challenge organizing’s presumptive outer-bounds, and prove how even bad doctrine can be harnessed for good. True to form, these alt-labor innovations in organizing can be spotted in recent campaigns where the activists are already assembled and scrutiny instead surrounds how the group is negotiating. The era of alt-bargaining, I argue, is upon us. I make this case through a series of narratives surveying a number of recent bargaining campaigns in Chicago, Denver, St. Paul, and across five southern states. While alt-bargaining has obvious overlap with the so-called “bargaining for the common good” approach to negotiations, which prioritizes community-centric demands, its true promise arises from the insight that the sustainability of its three legal orientations rest on how members and non-members come to understand the nature of that “community.” Alt-bargaining has revealed that when bargaining interests are viewed more as relational opportunities than coalitional glue, the interests — and the number of seats on the union side of the table — expand.

Keywords: labor, unions, teacher strikes, bargaining, bargaining for the common good, alt-labor

JEL Classification: J51, J52, J53

Suggested Citation

Oswalt, Michael M, Alt-Bargaining (September 6, 2019). Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 82, No. 3, 2019, Available at SSRN:

Michael M Oswalt (Contact Author)

Northern Illinois University College of Law ( email )

Swen Parson Hall
DeKalb, IL 60115
United States

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