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Research Handbook on the Economics of Labor and Employment Law

Research Handbook on the Economics of Labor and Employment Law

Research Handbooks in Law and Economics series

Edited by Cynthia L. Estlund and Michael L. Wachter

This Research Handbook assembles the original work of leading legal and economic scholars, working in a variety of traditions and methodologies, on the economic analysis of labor and employment law. In addition to surveying the current state of the art on the economics of labor markets and employment relations, the volume’s 16 chapters assess aspects of traditional labor law and union organizing, the law governing the employment contract and termination of employment, employment discrimination and other employer mandates, restrictions on employee mobility, and the forum and remedies for labor and employment claims.

Chapter 15: The striking success of the National Labor Relations Act

Michael L. Wachter

Subjects: economics and finance, labour economics, law and economics, law - academic, law and economics


In the United States today, less than 10 percent of private sector employment is unionized. After peaking at 35 percent of employment in the early 1950s, union membership has been in decline for the last 59 years. This decline represents one of the most important institutional shifts in the United States economy. Reflecting this decline, a common theme among academic legal commentators is that the law governing unionization and collective bargaining, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), has been a terrible failure. In this chapter I will make the counter-claim – that the NLRA has been largely successful and in one key area exceedingly successful. Its presumed failure, if the word failure needs to be maintained, is largely due to its successes. Before judging the NLRA to be a success or failure, measures of success have to be identified. I will judge the success of the NLRA by whether the two explicit goals of the Wagner Act of 1935 have been achieved. The goals are industrial peace and a greater balance in bargaining power between employers and employees.

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