Workplace Democracy and Democratic Worker Organizations: Notes on Worker Centers

Catherine L. Fisk


Worker organizing outside the traditional union framework in the United States has lately focused on worker centers, which provide the benefits of collective action and participatory workplace democracy without the legal obstacles faced by unions. This Article offers thoughts on legal regulation of worker organizations’ internal governance to facilitate collective power with appropriate protection for the rights of individuals within the collective. Federal law extensively regulates the internal governance of unions so as to protect minorities in an organization that is an exclusive representative. It does not apply to worker centers, which disclaim the desire to represent workers for bargaining. Worker centers are regulated only lightly, under state law of nonprofit organizations. But if they become powerful, they will be large and will need to be managed by a leadership that may or may not remain accountable to the membership and respectful of minority rights. This Article offers a reading of the literature on union democracy from the 1950s as notes toward thinking about governance of worker organizations that are not labor unions.

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