New Report: U.S. Labor Law Must Be Overhauled and Expanded to Empower Working People

Latest Research From Leading Progressive Think Tank Comes Amid Growing Public Concern with Inequality, Wage Stagnation

NEW YORK, NY – In a new report, the Roosevelt Institute outlines why and how U.S. labor law should be reformed to restore economic and political power to working people. The report Rebuilding Worker Voice in Today’s Economy is co-authored by Roosevelt Visiting Fellow and Temple University Associate Professor of Law Brishen Rogers and University of Michigan Assistant Professor of Law Kate Andrias. It argues that our current laws around worker organizing and collective bargaining substantially limit workers’ and unions’ power, and therefore exacerbate economic and political inequality. It further argues that rebuilding worker power can create a more fair and equal economy and society.

The report comes at a time of growing concern about work and inequality, as well as pessimism about unions’ prospects. While this report focuses on rebuilding worker power in the private sector, it comes on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling Janus v. AFSCME, which was widely seen as an historic setback for organized labor as a whole. The authors argue, however, that under different rules of the game, workers could rebuild vibrant and powerful unions.

The report specifies four crucial ways that policymakers should change U.S. labor law:

  • Labor law’s basic rights should be extended to all workers in all economic sectors, including but not limited to domestic and agricultural workers as well as many workers currently classified as “independent contractors”
  • Labor law should protect and actively promote workplace unionization once again, including through new provisions that would grant unions equal access to workers
  • Labor law should enable sectoral-level bargaining, which would expand networks of protection and solidarity beyond atomized firms to entire industries
  • Labor law should protect workers’ rights to strike, picket, and engage in other forms of non-violent and concerted direct action

“For decades, we have witnessed the steady erosion of union and worker rights. The consequence has been an economy that is not working for most Americans,” said Kate Andrias, co-author of the report. “This erosion occurred in part through changes to laws put in place to protect working people. We can learn from the mistakes of our past to address the urgent needs of people struggling here and now. Until we once again take worker power seriously, our economic and political system will continue to fail a critical mass of people.”

“We will not have a more fair and equal society until workers have more power,” said Brishen Rogers, co-author of the report. “Rules that were put in place nearly 80 years ago and then steadily chipped away are simply not up to the challenges we face today. The path to an economy in which working people once again have a real seat at the table will be steep and daunting, but it is rather straightforward. We need fundamental labor law reform to guarantee all workers a voice in their workplaces, in the broader economy, and in our democracy. This will require tremendous political courage and will. But if we get this right, it will bring about a better economy for all and pave the way for other progressive reforms that we so desperately need.”

For years, the Roosevelt Institute has sounded the alarm about how the excessive power at the top of our economy harms the rest of us. The report draws on past work by the authors, including Kate Andrias, The New Labor Law, 126 Yale Law Journal 2 (2016); Kate Andrias, Social Bargaining in States and Cities: Toward a More Egalitarian and Democratic Workplace Law, Harvard Law & Policy Review Online (2018); Brishen Rogers, Libertarian Corporatism is not an Oxymoron, 94 Texas Law Review 1623 (2016); Brishen Rogers, Redefining Employment for the Modern Economy, ACS Issue Brief (2016); and Brishen Rogers, Passion and Reason in Labor Law, 47 Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, 313 (2012).

About the Roosevelt Institute

Until the rules work for every American, they’re not working. The Roosevelt Institute asks: what does a better society look like? Armed with a bold vision for the future, we push the economic and social debate forward. We believe that those at the top hold too much power and wealth, and that our economy will be stronger when that changes. Ultimately, we want our work to move the country toward a new economic and political system: one built by many for the good of all.

It takes all of us to rewrite the rules. From emerging leaders to Nobel laureate economists, we’ve built a network of thousands. At Roosevelt, we make influencers more thoughtful and thinkers more influential. We also celebrate—and are inspired by—those whose work embodies the values of both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and carries their vision forward today.