What Do Nonunions Do?
What Should We Do About Them?
Daphne Gottlieb Taras, University of Calgary and Bruce E. Kaufman, Georgia
Task Force Working Paper #WP14
Prepared for the May 25-26, 1999, conference
Symposium on Changing Employment Relations and New Institutions of
September 1, 1999
Nonunion representation is a matter of considerable debate in the United
States, with arguments both for and against changing American labor laws to
permit employee representation to be practiced overtly by nonunion workers and
nonunion companies. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)
currently places significant constraints on the structure and operation of
employee representation committees in nonunion companies. Critics of the
NLRA claim that its strictures constrain employee voice and inhibit the
ability of American companies to form and operate employee involvement and
participation programs in nonunion workplaces - to the detriment of both
national competitiveness and cooperative employer-employee relations.
Written for the May 25-26, 1999, Symposium on Changing Employment
Relations and New Forms of Worker Representation - co-sponsored by the Task
Force on Reconstructing Americas Labor Market Institutions at MIT and the U.S.
Department of Labor - this paper provides a background for discussing the
potential of nonunion representation through an account of its history, use in
contemporary practice, and policy implications. The first section, the
Introduction, includes a comparison of the treatment of nonunion representation
in U.S. and Canadian labor laws. The second section reviews the empirical
findings on nonunion representation and summarizes both the key points of
agreement and the areas that have sparked controversy in America over the
legalization of nonunion representation. The authors find that in the long-run,
nonunion representation works best when practiced in the shadow of a viable
union organizing threat. The third section demonstrates that many U.S.
employers are already practicing forms of nonunion representation that are
contrary to the language of the NLRA. Finally, the papers fourth
section discusses the authors' recommended policy changes: they believe
NLRA Section 2(5) should be amended to allow collective action by
nonunion employees, but in tandem with changes in other sections of the
NLRA that bolster the ability of nonunion employees to exit ineffective
nonunion plans in favor of unions. Because they found from their research that
nonunion systems operate best when they exist in the shadow of a viable union
threat, the authors believe it is vital that any softening of the nonunion
representation ban be accompanied by changes that increase the ability of
workers to join bona fide unions. Moves to make nonunion representation lawful
must not jeopardize the nations already low levels of unionization.