Increased workers’ rights in the United States?

Brian Jebb

In the U.S., labor laws give employers a substantial amount of flexibility and American employers look at some of the European laws giving individual workers and works’ councils substantial power with concern. Now we are less than one year away from a federal election, could the tide be turning?

Some of the policy proposals from many of the leading Democrats running for President would fundamentally alter the employee/employer relationship in the U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is usually somewhere in the top two candidates according to most polls, is offering a plan to require firms with more than USD1 billion in revenue to give workers the right to vote for at least 40% of all corporate board seats. This would introduce the concept of co-determination to the U.S. that is closer to what exists in Germany. The theory is that such a move could have a significant effect on corporate decisions such as whether to approve big bonuses and compensation packages for company management.

Another leading Democrat, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, is supporting bills that would enable workers from different companies within the same industry to be able to join forces to require their employers to negotiate collective bargaining agreements. He is also supporting a federal law requiring U.S. employers to disclose their gender pay gap, in line with the UK position. Former Vice President Joe Biden has stated he will also pass legislation to strengthen workers’ bargaining rights, including holding company executives personally liable when they interfere with organizing efforts and criminally liable when their interference is intentional.

As the Democrat policy proposals seem to be shifting to the left of those that applied under President Obama, a potential Democrat win next year may see a whole range of changes to the employment relationship in the U.S. It promises to be a long, but interesting, election year.