Shaping the Future of Work: Challenges and Opportunities for U.S. Labor Management Relations and Workplace Dispute Resolution

Shaping the Future of Work:
Challenges and Opportunities for U.S. Labor Management Relations and Workplace Dispute Resolution
Executive Summary
Thomas A. Kochan

The U.S. labor management relations system is failing to meet its basic objectives of providing workers an effective voice in shaping their terms and conditions of employment, enhancing productivity and efficiency of employers and the overall economy, and achieving equitable and efficient resolution to workplace problems and disputes.

Now comes another challenge:  How to adapt to advancing technologies that are likely to have profound effects on work practices and structures that are core features of the U.S. labor management system.

These realities suggest it is time for fundamental, not incremental, changes in the policies, institutions, processes, and relationships governing labor management relations in particular and employment relations more generally.  Given the growing importance of new technologies changes in law and labor management practices are needed to ensure workers and their representatives are able to participate in the full range of decisions regarding new technologies—from early definition of the problems technology is asked to solve, to the key design decisions, through implementation and the adjustments needed for those adversely affected by technological changes.

I draw on two national surveys that demonstrate workers want a greater voice at work and show greater interest in joining unions than has been the case in recent decades.  I conclude that meeting these expectation and rebuild the U.S. labor relations and dispute resolution systems in ways that fit with changing technologies will require (1) fixing the basic features of labor law to ensure workers who want collective bargaining can gain access to it; (2) expanding the array of options for worker representation ones such as works councils, board representation, and provision of labor market and dispute resolution services that go beyond those provided in prevailing labor law, (3) expanding the issues subject to worker voice and bargaining to include basic decisions regarding technology, (4) expanding the range of employment relationships covered by labor law to include contract workers, independent contractors, supervisors, and domestic workers, and (5) replacing employer dominated arbitration systems with ones that meet accepted due process standards.

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