Toward a Foundational Theory of Workers' Rights: The Autonomous Dignified Worker
64 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2007 Last revised: 27 Apr 2012
This article suggests an initial step toward grounding workplace laws in rights-based theory. Accepting that a legal right is nothing more than a reflection of the value attached by the political system to sundry, often conflicting, interests, I argue that American labor and employment law reflects the quintessential values of a free market economy, most notably efficiency, wealth maximization by rational decision-makers, and autonomy defined as freedom from coercion. Free market values tend to underlie several policies that favor individual over collective bargaining, employment at-will and strong management prerogatives, a dual labor market, and a welfare system with minimal wealth redistribution. Those policies favor the liberty and property rights of the owners of capital while tending to inflict harm on workers. Starting with Raz's conception of personal autonomy - becoming part author of one's life - and Dworkin's conception of dignity - promoting each person as having equal moral worth - I try to build a place for workers' legal rights based on the autonomous dignified worker. From there, I present a social action program to show how modest changes in the law would return the autonomous dignified worker to work.
Keywords: labor law, employment law, welfare law, rights theory
JEL Classification: K31, J50
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation