Workplace Democracy and Democratic Worker Organizations: Notes on Workers Centers and Members-Only Unions
Catherine Fisk, Workplace Democracy and Democratic Worker Organizations: Notes on Workers Centers and Members-Only Unions, 17 Theoretical Inquiries L. 101 (2016).
Worker organizing outside the traditional union framework in the United States has lately focused on worker centers and, to a lesser extent, members-only unions. These organizations provide the benefits of collective action and participatory workplace democracy without the legal obstacles faced by unions. This Essay offers thoughts on legal regulation of how worker organizations govern themselves to facilitate collective power with appropriate protection for the rights of individuals within the collective. Federal law extensively regulates the internal governance of unions so as to protect minorities in an organization that is an exclusive representative. It does not apply to members-only unions (which seek to bargain on behalf of only those workers who choose to become members) or worker centers (which disclaim the desire to represent workers for bargaining). Worker centers and members-only unions are regulated only lightly, under state law of nonprofit organizations. But if they become powerful, they will be large and will need to be managed by a leadership that may or may not remain accountable to the membership and respectful of minority rights. This Essay offers a reading of the literature on union democracy from the 1950s, including a classic text, Union Democracy, as notes toward thinking about governance of worker organizations that are not labor unions.