Theoretical Inquiries in Law
Editor-in-Chief: Hannes, Sharon
2 Issues per year
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Workplace Democracy and Democratic Worker Organizations: Notes on Worker Centers
- I gratefully acknowledge research assistance from UCI Law students Tilman Heyer and Margaux Poueymirou and from the UCI Law Library Reference staff, especially Christina Tsou. The epigraph is from Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy: Electoral and Athenian, 26 PS: P
ol. S ci. & P ol. 475, 477 (1993). Sheldon Wolin (1922-2015) first got me thinking about participatory democracy long ago when I was his undergraduate student, and I hope the project of which this Article is a tentative first effort will someday be a credit to his inspiration.
Worker organizing outside the traditional union framework in the United States has lately focused on worker centers, which provide the benefits of collective action and participatory workplace democracy without the legal obstacles faced by unions. This Article offers thoughts on legal regulation of worker organizations’ internal governance 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 worker centers, which disclaim the desire to represent workers for bargaining. Worker centers 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 Article offers a reading of the literature on union democracy from the 1950s as notes toward thinking about governance of worker organizations that are not labor unions.
Democracy was the political moment when the demos recognized that the power of the polis was their power, not an illegal seizure of something that belonged to the rich or well born.Sheldon Wolin, “Democracy: Electoral and Athenian” (1993)