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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 16: Why workers still need a collective voice in the era of norms and mandates

Cynthia L. Estlund

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


The drastic decline of union representation in the United States has opened up a large and by now familiar “representation gap” in the workplace – a gap between “what workers want,” to cite Freeman and Rogers’ (1999) important book on the question, and what they have by way of voice at work. But what workers want does not necessarily command the attention of policymakers. Is workers’ desire for greater voice at work any more compelling than their desire for higher wages, paid vacations, or any number of terms and conditions of employment that are left almost entirely to the tender mercies of labor markets and individual bargaining? On some accounts, workers no longer need collective representation (whether or not they want it) because their interests are adequately protected by a combination of legally enforceable mandates and self-enforcing norms. I will argue in this chapter that these accounts are wrong and workers are right: most workers not only want but need some form of collective representation in order to enforce the mix of legal mandates and informal norms by which they are currently governed at work.

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