A new report finds American workers are taking actions through union organizing, strikes, and other forms of collective action to address their pent-up demand for achieving a stronger voice and representation at work. But their actions are making clear to the American public the obstacles workers face in forming unions under the election procedures provided in current U.S. labor law.
The report, U.S. Workers’ Organizing Efforts and Collective Actions: A Review of the Current Landscape, summarizes research evidence on the size of the voice and representation gaps workers are attempting to fill, and provides examples of different strategies workers are using to address the gap.
The report is the first research product of the Worker Empowerment Research Network (WERN), a new interdisciplinary network of labor market researchers. The faculty and doctoral students who authored the report reviewed worker organizing activities over the past decade to explore the wide range of approaches American workers are taking to express their collective voices in their workplaces, companies, and communities. By highlighting the wide range of organizing and collective actions occurring across the country, the researchers hope to lay a foundation for a broad-based, multi-stakeholder set of discussions about what needs to be done to support worker efforts to achieve more equitable, inclusive, productive, and resilient employment relationships.
“This is a teachable moment,” says Thomas A. Kochan, Professor Emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management and member of the faculty of the MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research (IWER), and one of the lead authors of the new report. “There is such an enormous difference between the intent of labor laws and what workers experience when they try to exercise their rights.”
Additional lead authors of the report include: Janice R. Fine, a professor of labor studies and employment relations at the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University; Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research and a senior lecturer in labor relations, law, and history at Cornell University's ILR School; and Suresh Naidu, a professor of economics and international and public affairs at Columbia University.
The other eight authors of the report are: Jacob Barnes and Phela Townsend, who are both doctoral students at the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers; Yaminette Diaz-Linhart, a doctoral student at The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University; Johnnie Kallas and Jeonghun Kim, who are both doctoral students at Cornell University's ILR School; Arrow Minster and Di Tong, who are both doctoral students at MIT Sloan's Institute for Work and Employment Research (IWER); and Danielle Twiss, a research assistant at the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers.
Key findings of the report include:
- Despite a decrease in union participation, the level of support for unions is actually higher than in the past.
- Workers may be deterred from unionizing by labor laws and employer responses.
- In lieu of forming unions, workers have discovered other means of self-advocacy.