Democratic lawmakers will push to have entire sectors of the economy unionized, a practice called “sectoral bargaining,” when Congress reconvenes next year. The idea behind it is that because the Democrats’ allies in the union movement have struggled to maintain their numbers, Congress can help by passing a law declaring that anybody working in a particular industry is automatically part of a union. The workers themselves won’t, it seems, have any say in this.
Virginia Democrat Bobby Scott, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, is pretty upfront about it in “The future of work: How Congress can support workers in the digital economy.” The document is a set of policy recommendations for the coming year his committee released earlier this week.
“Collective bargaining in the United States is limited by the fact that it typically occurs only at the level of individual firms of employers, and not across industries or sectors,” the report stated. It noted that non-union companies “lack an incentive to raise wages to compete with unionized employers.” That’s a roundabout way of saying that the higher costs associated with unionization can harm a business in a competitive industry.
Scott’s solution is to unionize all of the companies so that the competitive edge from not having a union doesn’t exist. “Many countries have facilitated collective bargaining on the sectoral level where representatives of workers and employers in a given industry bargain over wages and standards throughout that industry.”
The committee report tries to frame this as a positive for businesses. They will no longer have to worry about setting wages because they won’t have control over them anymore. “Centralized bargaining benefits employers and employees by removing wages from competition, enabling employers to compete over the quality of their products or services.”
Scott is less clear on how this would be implemented, though the report appears to indicate that whatever union currently covers most of an industry would be given the contract. In cases where multiple unions represent workers in an industry? Well, they’ll work something out.
There is no indication that the workers themselves will have any input on this. In Scott’s vision, they just wake up one day with a union card, told they are now represented by an organization they are not familiar with, and that will be that. The important thing is that the union is themselves will be more powerful.
“Crucial to this emerging issue is promoting high union membership density to protect the effectiveness of sector-wide bargaining and prevent a free-rider problem from emerging,” the reported stated.
This is just one item on a fairly radical wish list, but shows the direction the Congress will try to head in next year.