The American Experience with Exclusive Representation: Implications for the Issue of Plural Unionism in South Korea
Kenneth Glenn Dau-Schmidt
Indiana University Maurer School of Law
Ryan Hamilton Vann
Indiana University School of Law-Bloomington
October 24, 2005
Indiana Legal Studies Research Paper No. 42
Although there is a wide diversity of labor laws among the industrialized democracies of the world, two common purposes behind these laws are the fostering of employees' right to collectively bargain and the promotion of industrial peace. Certainly these are shared purposes behind the laws of the United States and the Republic of Korea. The question of whether to determine employee representation through exclusive representation or plural unionism is a one that touches on both of these fundamental issues in the development of a system of industrial relations. Exclusive representation can improve a union's bargaining power relative to the employer, helping to ensure that the employees can make meaningful contributions to collective bargaining. Exclusive representation can also simplify the problem of collective bargaining, promoting cooperation between the parties by focusing the employer's attention on one set of employee representatives and discouraging strategic behavior by subsets of employees at the expense of overall cooperation. However, exclusive representation can also pose a barrier to employee organization, a problem that has plagued the American industrial relations system. Furthermore, lumping employees with disparate interests together in one unit with one representative can complicate the union politics of collective negotiations and leave minority interests unrepresented. Indeed, in the United States we have found it important and necessary that the grant of exclusive representation to a union be accompanied by a duty to fairly represent all employees in the designated bargaining unit.
In this essay we will examine the policy choice between a system of industrial relations based on exclusive representation and one based on plural unionism. We undertake this examination by presenting the American law and experience with respect to exclusive representation, and discussing the relevance of that experience to the question of plural unionism. In the first section we discuss the American law with respect to exclusive representation, including a brief overview of our election procedure, the doctrine of the duty of fair representation and recent developments with respect to the recognition of minority unions and members only contracts in the United States. In the second section we discuss the American experience with exclusive representation and multiple units in one employer and the decline of the American labor movement. In the final section we discuss the implications of the American experience for the issue of plural unions in the Republic of Korea. The United States is an interesting case study on the question of exclusive representation or plural unionism because perhaps no other country has as formal a system for determining questions of representation or clings so closely to the exclusive representation model. On the other hand the United States also has ample experience with multiple unions within one employer. We conclude that there is wisdom in Korea's move to plural unionism with one channel bargaining, although we emphasize the importance of a duty of fair representation, the possible need for workers to organize in multiple channels when they do not share common interests and the possibility of letting the parties determine how they conduct collective negotiations.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 23
Keywords: labor law, United States, Korea, exclusive representation, plural unionism, plural unions
JEL Classification: F00, J50, J51, J52, J53, J58, K31, P52
Date posted: November 5, 2005 ; Last revised: June 26, 2013