Testimony before the House Education and Labor Committee Hearing on The Future of Work

October 23, 2019

Madam Chair Wilson, Madam Chair Adams, Ranking Members Walberg and Byrne, and members of the Subcommittees, thank you for this opportunity to testify today. I am a professor at Temple University law school, a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center, and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. I am here today in my capacity as a scholar. My research focuses on issues confronting low-wage workers, including the challenges they face in seeking to unionize and bargain collectively in today’s economy.

I have been asked to testify about two topics. The first is whether we should reform our labor laws to enable more centralized forms of bargaining. Parts I and II, below, summarize the enterprise bargaining model that dominates in the United States and contrast it with more centralized bargaining models that are common in Europe. Part III then argues that legal reforms to enable more centralized bargaining or standard setting are essential to ensure worker voice and greater economic equality today. Part IV discusses two possible reforms to advance that goal. The first would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to create an “industry committee” system in which an administrative agency would empower workers and employers to jointly set wages and other basic terms within particular sectors. The second would amend the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to enable or require more centralized or “sectoral” collective bargaining.

I want to emphasize in advance the importance of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) to restoring worker voice in today’s economy. The reforms I’ll discuss would not be a substitute for the PRO Act. Instead, they would complement and supplement the PRO Act. Industry committees would ensure some collective representation for workers who will find it difficult to unionize under the PRO Act, while sectoral bargaining would amplify the power of workers who have already unionized or who are seeking to unionize.[1]

The second topic I have been asked to discuss is benefits portability. Part V argues that any reforms to encourage portable benefits should not relieve companies of duties under labor and employment laws and should give workers a voice in plan design and administration.

[1] This argument is developed in detail in Kate Andrias and Brishen Rogers, Rebuilding Worker Voice in Today’s Economy, Roosevelt Institute (August 2018). In that report, Prof. Andrias and I propose four reforms to rebuild worker voice: ensuring NLRA coverage to all vulnerable workers, enabling enterprise-level organizing and bargaining, restoring the right to strike, and enabling sectoral bargaining and standard-setting.