The Trump Administration is waging a quiet war on workers. The effort involves anti-union appointments to federal agencies, repeal of Obama-era regulations that were designed to raise the wages of low and middle income workers, and support for anti-worker legislation in Congress.
Courts and legal scholars have long been concerned with the problem of "entrenchment" -the ways that incumbents insulate themselves and their favored policies from the normal processes of democratic change. But this wide swath of case law and scholarship has focused nearly exclusively on formal entrenchment: the legal rules governing elections, the processes for enacting and repealing legislation, and the methods of constitutional adoption and amendment. This Article demonstrates that political actors also entrench themselves and their policies through an array of functional alternatives. By enacting substantive policies that strengthen political allies or weaken political opponents, by shifting the composition of the political community, or by altering the structure of political decision making, political actors can achieve the same entrenching results without resorting to the kinds of formal rule changes that raise red flags. Recognizing the continuity of formal and functional entrenchment forces us to consider why public law condemns the former while ignoring or pardoning the latter. Appreciating the prevalence of functional entrenchment also raises a broader set of questions about when impediments to political change should be viewed as democratically pathological and how we should distinguish entrenchment from ordinary democratic politics.
Under United States labor law, when a majority of employees in a bargaining unit chooses union representation, all employees in the unit are represented by the union. Federal law, moreover, requires the union to represent all workers in a bargaining unit equally with respect to both collective bargaining and disciplinary matters. As a general rule, federal law enables unions to require employees to pay for the services that unions are obligated to provide them. Twenty-four states, however, have enacted laws granting union-represented employees the right to refuse to pay the union for the services that federal law requires the union to offer. As such, the intersection of federal labor law and state right to work laws results in a mandate that unions provide services for free to any employee who declines to pay dues. This paper proposes three approaches to addressing this feature of U.S. labor law. First, the paper argues that under a proper reading of the NLRA states may not prohibit all mandatory payments from workers to unions. In particular, the paper shows that states must permit collective bargaining agreements requiring so-called objectors (or nonmembers) to pay dues and fees lower than those required of members. Second, the paper argues that in right to work states federal law ought to relax the requirement of exclusive representation and allow unions to organize, bargain on behalf of, and represent only those workers who affirmatively choose to become members. This proposal would implement a members-only bargaining regime in right to work states. Third, the paper contends that the NLRB ought to abandon its rule forbidding unions from charging objecting nonmembers a fee for representation services that the union provides directly and individually to them.
Public policy in the United States is disproportionately responsive to the wealthy, and the traditional response to this problem, campaign finance regulation, has failed. As students of politics have long recognized, however, political influence flows not only from wealth but also from organization, a form of political power open to all income groups. Accordingly, as this Essay argues, a promising alternative to campaign finance regulations is legal interventions designed to facilitate political organizing by the poor and middle class. To date, the most important legal intervention of this kind has been labor law, and the labor union has been the central vehicle for this type of organizing. But the labor union as a political-organizational vehicle suffers a fundamental flaw: unions bundle political organization with collective bargaining, a highly contested form of economic organization. As a result, opposition to collective bargaining impedes unions' ability to serve as a political-organizing vehicle for lower and middle-income groups. Public policy in the United States is disproportionately responsive to the wealthy, and the traditional response to this problem, campaign finance regulation, has failed. As students of politics have long recognized, however, political influence flows not only from wealth but also from organization, a form of political power open to all income groups. Accordingly, as this Essay argues, a promising alternative to campaign finance regulations is legal interventions designed to facilitate political organizing by the poor and middle class. To date, the most important legal intervention of this kind has been labor law, and the labor union has been the central vehicle for this type of organizing. But the labor union as a political-organizational vehicle suffers a fundamental flaw: unions bundle political organization with collective bargaining, a highly contested form of economic organization. As a result, opposition to collective bargaining impedes unions' ability to serve as a political-organizing vehicle for lower and middle-income groups. This Essay proposes that labor law unbundle the union, allowing employees to organize politically through the union form without also organizing economically for collective bargaining purposes. Doing so would have the immediate effect of liberating political-organizational efforts from the constraints of collective bargaining, an outcome that could mitigate representational inequality. The Essay identifies the legal reforms that would be necessary to enable such unbundled "political unions" to succeed. It concludes by looking beyond the union context and suggesting a broader regime of reforms aimed at facilitating political organizing by those income groups for whom representational inequality is now a problem.
Citizens United upends much of campaign finance law, but it maintains at least one feature of that legal regime: the equal treatment of corporations and unions. Prior to Citizens United, that is, corporations and unions were equally constrained in their ability to spend general treasury funds on federal electoral politics. After the decision, campaign finance law leaves both equally unconstrained and free to use their general treasuries to finance political expenditures. But the symmetrical treatment that Citizens United leaves in place masks a less visible, but equally significant, way in which the law treats union and corporate political spending differently. Namely, federal law prohibits a union from spending its general treasury funds on politics if individual employees object to such use - employees, in short, enjoy a federally protected right to opt out of funding union political activity. In contrast, corporations are free to spend their general treasuries on politics even if individual shareholders object - shareholders enjoy no right to opt out of financing corporate political activity. This Article assesses whether the asymmetric rule of political opt-out rights is justified. The Article first offers an affirmative case for symmetry grounded in the principle that the power to control access to economic opportunities - whether employment or investment based - should not be used to secure compliance with or support for the economic actor's political agenda. It then addresses three arguments in favor of asymmetry. Given the relative weakness of these arguments, the Article suggests that the current asymmetry in opt-out rules may be unjustified. The Article concludes by pointing to constitutional questions raised by this asymmetry, and by arguing that lawmakers would be justified in correcting it.
The proposed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) has led to fierce debate over how best to ensure employees a choice on the question of unionization. The debate goes to the core of our federal system of labor law. Each of the potential legislative designs under consideration — including both “card check” and “rapid elections” — aims to enhance employee choice by minimizing or eliminating managerial involvement in the unionization process. The central question raised by EFCA, therefore, is whether enabling employees to limit or avoid managerial intervention in union campaigns is an appropriate goal for federal law. This Article answers this foundational question in the affirmative. It reaches this conclusion by conceptualizing federal labor law in terms of legal default rules, drawing in particular on the preference-eliciting default theory of statutory interpretation and the reversible default theory from corporate law. Doing so leads to the argument that card check, rapid elections, and similar mechanisms are best understood as “asymmetry-correcting altering rules” — means of mitigating the impediments that block departure from the nonunion default. Understanding EFCA in this way also requires that we ask how such an altering rule should be constructed. This Article addresses this institutional design question by arguing that card check’s open decisionmaking process is flawed and that rapid elections, while an improvement over the status quo, are an insufficient method of mitigating the relevant impediments to employee choice. Accordingly, this Article offers two new designs — alternatives to both card check and rapid elections — that would accomplish the legitimate function of minimizing managerial intervention while at the same time preserving secrecy in decisionmaking.