Can Wage Boards Revive U.S. Labor?: Marshalling Evidence from Puerto Rico
31 Pages Posted: 9 Sep 2020 Last revised: 28 Sep 2020
Date Written: May 3, 2020
Some U.S. law reformers, labor advocates, policymakers, scholars, and politicians have begun to favor laws that promote sectoral bargaining to, among other things, rebuild union membership. They highlight the case of New York State, where the government convened sector-based minimum wage boards authorized under its minimum wage legislation to increase wages in the fast-food sector to $15 an hour. To add to that discussion, this article marshals historical evidence from Puerto Rico, where wage boards helped U.S.-based labor unions to organize the garment industry in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. It explains the importance of political power, tripartite negotiation and wage setting with erga omnes effects, and social norms in the form of amicable, collaborative relationships between employers and unions. Those three conditions are lacking in today’s New York fast-food industry and industrial relations. To the extent Puerto Rico charts a course, the future of sectoral bargaining in the United States as a tool to rebuild union membership is uncertain.
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