A New Voice for the Workplace: A Proposal for an American Works Councils Act
45 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2004
Surveys show that American workers want more "voice" in the workplace. For the past century, unions have served as the principle voice mechanism for workers, but with the decline of unions, employee voice also has diminished. Section 8(a)(2) of the NLRA compounds this problem by prohibiting most employer-supported programs by which employees "deal with" employers concerning terms and conditions of employment.
Both the East and the West offer possible alternative voice mechanisms. Over the past two decades, American employers increasingly have looked to the Japanese experience in adopting quality circles, work teams, and other employee involvement programs. But the growth in these programs has fallen short of expectations due, in part, to the reluctance of some employers to cede managerial discretion. Further, even if the Section 8(a)(2) bar is removed to permit more EIP's, additional employee voice will occur only if individual employers choose that result.
Europe provides a different model in the form of works councils. Works councils are elected bodies of employees that meet regularly with management to discuss establishment level problems. Most countries in Western Europe legislatively mandate the formation of works councils for plants in excess of a certain minimum size. In addition, works councils are undergoing a continent-wide boom as the expanding European Union has adopted a series of directives that require a near universal establishment of works councils over the next few years.
This article proposes the framework for a new American Works Councils Act. Such legislation not only would enhance employee voice, but also would link the United States and Europe in effectively establishing what hopefully would be the first of many new global labor norms.
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