Guaranteeing workers a seat at the table

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The American labor movement has become deeply dysfunctional. Workers feel largely alienated from Big Labor unions, which appear focused primarily on promoting progressive politics. At 6%, the union membership rate among private-sector workers is lower than at the time of the National Labor Relations Act’s passage in 1935. That law not only fails to serve modern workers effectively, but also precludes experimentation with alternative forms of organizing.

What a tragedy. In a well-functioning capitalist system, participants meet as equals able to advance their interests through mutually beneficial relationships. Organized labor has traditionally been the mechanism that gives workers an institution of solidarity, power in the market, and representation in the workplace. Strong worker representation can make America stronger.

This has traditionally been the view of both free-market champions and social conservatives. Adam Smith warned in The Wealth of Nations that in the competition between capital and labor, employers have “the advantage in the dispute” over wage levels “and force [workers] into a compliance with their terms.” John Stuart Mill, analyzing this same conflict in Thornton on Labour and Its Claims, denounced the morals of “whoever does not wish that the labourers may prevail, and that the highest limit, whatever it be, may be attained.” In The Quest for Community, Robert Nisbet calls unions “the true supports of economic freedom,” while in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, Michael Novak identifies them as one of democratic capitalism’s “chief social inventions.” In the encyclical Laborem Exercens, St. John Paul II called them “an indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrialized societies.”

At American Compass, we work to understand what workers want from their labor organizations and how the nation’s labor movement and labor law are falling short. We develop policy reforms that would allow workers to create and access new and better options.

The Seat at the Table collection makes the case for reforming and revitalizing American labor, beginning with a landmark joint statement arguing that Conservatives Should Ensure Workers a Seat at the Table. A Wall Street Journal essay, America Needs a Conservative Labor Movement, traces the history of conservative attitudes toward labor to identify the foundation on which a new movement could be built. Workers of the World surveys the wide variety of labor laws and organizations present in other countries.

The Better Bargain collection focuses on solutions, beginning with a survey of American workers that studies their experiences in the workplace, their attitudes toward organized labor in its current form, and the elements of collective representation that they would value most. Policy papers then offer concrete bargains that would require concessions from both existing unions and the business lobby, for the benefit of workers themselves: better bargains on Workplace Voice and Representation, Worker Power in the Labor Market, and Worker Solidarity and Mutual Support. The first of these has been adapted as the TEAM Act introduced by Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Jim Banks.

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Conservatives Should Ensure Workers a Seat at the Table

Statement on a conservative future for the American labor movement.

Compass Advisors
Jonathan Berry

Boyden Gray PLLC

Brian Dijkema


David Rolf

Founder, SEIU 775

Samuel Estreicher

New York University School of Law


Featured Content

Browse all content in the Labor library


One Simple Trick for Raising Wages


The Economics of Labor Supply and the Role of Immigration Policy

A Better Bargain


Greater Voice, Power, and Support for Workers

The Edgerton Essays


Perspectives from the Working Class

A Seat at the Table


A Conservative Future for the American Labor Movement

Policy Proposals

Policy Brief: Mandatory E-Verify


Maintaining tight labor markets for American workers

Policy Brief: Guestworker Phasedowns


Ending temporary worker programs that depress American wages

A Better Bargain: Worker Voice and Representation

9/8/2021 Chris Griswold

This paper proposes two complementary policies that together offer a genuinely better bargain for American workers: formal recognition of “works councils” and a mechanism by which workers could elect representation to their corporation’s board.

A Better Bargain: Worker Power in the Labor Market

9/21/2021 Oren Cass

This paper explains the advantages of broad-based bargaining, the key parameters that policymakers must establish, and the gradual process of experimentation by which it could gain prevalence in the American economy.

A Better Bargain: Worker Solidarity and Mutual Support

10/7/2021 Wells King

Straightforward federal reforms could enable state and local governments to partner with new labor organizations in administer portable benefits and sector-wide training.


Labor Market Not Yet Working for Workers


New data on job quality and worker views on unions

A Guide to Labor Supply


For more than half a century, productivity, GDP, and profit have risen together. Wages have not followed suit.

Not What They Bargained For: A Survey of American Workers


The Better Bargain Survey explores workers’ attitudes about their jobs and organized labor; their appetite for greater support, voice, and power in the workplace; and their reactions to political messages and policy reforms

A Guide to Economic Inequality


American inequality is higher now than at any time since WWII. The gap is wide and getting wider. Read what the data show and why it matters.

Workers of the World

9/18/2020 Wells King

Few Americans realize how our system of organized labor is an outlier among Western nations. In some European countries, unions attract a greater share of workers and maintain less adversarial relationships with business. A better understanding of these alternative models can guide American policymakers as they address our labor policy challenges.


Jobs Americans Would Do

5/4/2023 Oren Cass

A more productive conversation about raising workers’ wages

Servants No Longer

9/8/2022 Chris Griswold

American Compass policy director Chris Griswold explores the relationship between worker power and the roots of civic friendship.

Labor’s Conservative Heart

9/8/2020 Brian Dijkema

The trade union is a quintessentially Tocquevillian institution and the one that brought down Soviet communism. Conservatives must rescue the American labor movement from Big Labor’s partisanship and restore its community-building purpose.

The Once and Future American Labor Law

9/14/2020 Michael Lind

American labor law has become worse than useless: a lower share of the private-sector labor force is organized today than before the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935. The time has come for an entirely new model.

America Needs a Conservative Labor Movement

9/17/2020 Oren Cass

American Compass’s Oren Cass argues that a strong, reformed labor movement has unique potential to advance conservative priorities.


Talkin’ (Policy) Shop: Worker-Run Benefits


On this episode of Policy in Brief, Oren Cass and Chris Griswold discuss a proposal to allow workers to administer their own employee benefits through organizations they control.

Talkin’ (Policy) Shop: The Workforce Training Grant


On the inaugural episode of Policy in Brief, American Compass executive director Oren Cass is joined by policy director Chris Griswold to discuss the Workforce Training Grant, a proposal to create a meaningful alternative pathway to college.

Why National Conservatism Needs Worker Power

11/25/2021 Oren Cass

At the second National Conservatism conference, Oren Cass discusses the importance of worker power to the future of conservatism.

Critics Corner with Vinnie Vernuccio


In this episode, Vinnie Vernuccio joins Oren in the Critics Corner. Vinnie is the president of the Institute for the American Worker and a senior fellow at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Fulfillment: A Conversation on Amazon and Regional Inequality with Alec MacGillis


Fulfillment author Alec MacGillis joins American Compass research director Wells King for a conversation exploring what the growth of Amazon means for the future of inequality in the U.S., the pros and cons of “one-click America,” and how policymakers and consumers should respond.

Q&A with Freelancers Union Founder Sara Horowitz

9/15/2020 Oren Cass

Labor law has failed to evolve alongside a changing labor market. Some labor leaders have been moving ahead anyway.


Where Are the Secure Jobs?

9/4/2023 Oren Cass

In the American Conservative, Oren Cass discusses how the American labor market’s failure to produce family-supporting jobs is fundamental to the nation’s problems.

A Labor Shortage Is a Great Problem to Have

6/2/2023 Oren Cass

Today’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the unemployment rate continuing to hold close to its lowest level in 70 years, despite a slight uptick last month. This might seem Read more…

The Dignity of Workers

5/24/2023 Chris Griswold

In Democracy at Work, labor law professor Ruth Dukes and sociologist Wolfgang Streeck describe how the dehumanizing and demanding conditions of an Amazon “fulfillment center” maximize the isolation of workers and Read more…

The Right Is Starting to Represent Workers Outside of Unions

2/21/2022 Chris Griswold

American Compass policy director Chris Griswold discusses recent pro-labor policy developments on the right-of-center and opportunities for further labor reform.

The Labor Movement Is ‘Woking’ Itself to Death

9/24/2021 Wells King

American Compass research director Wells King explores the failures of the modern American labor movement and what workers really want from unions.