Labor leader David Rolf and American Compass's Oren Cass discuss the potential for sectoral bargaining in America.


Most Americans take for granted that our enterprise-based system of organized labor is simply the way collective bargaining works: employees at a worksite vote on whether to unionize; if the union wins, it bargains with the employer. This in fact represents an outlier among advanced economies, most of which use a system of “sectoral bargaining” that requires industry-wide representatives for workers and employers to bargain over industry-wide standards. As Michael Lind argues in his essay, The Once and Future American Labor Law:

The present U.S. labor law system is based on decentralized, enterprise-based bargaining that offers few real advantages to workers but grants employers many opportunities to resist coming to the bargaining table. While industries governed by multi-employer contracts have created stable employment, established living wages, and resisted arbitrage, those that fall within the [current American] framework have witnessed a near-extinction of organized labor and left workers with only the minimal, standardized government safety net.

But sectoral bargaining is not a panacea. In the United States, where industry-wide agreements have been struck (e.g., among the “big three” automakers and the United Autoworkers), the result has sometimes been an uncompetitive sclerosis that led to stagnation and decline benefiting neither firms nor workers. The nationwide agreements reached in small European countries may not be practical in America’s larger and more diverse economy, but allowing separate agreements at the state level could trigger the same “race to the bottom” that has afflicted the current regime.

In this exchange, labor leader David Rolf and American Compass’s executive director Oren Cass discuss the case for and against sectoral bargaining and the potential for adopting it in America.

Begin reading with David Rolf’s opening entry.

All Entries

David Rolf
David Rolf is founder and President Emeritus of SEIU 775 and a former International Vice President of SEIU. He is the author of The Fight for Fifteen: The Right Wage for a Working America and A Roadmap for Rebuilding Worker Power.
Oren Cass
Oren Cass is the executive director at American Compass.
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