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Democracy in America at Work: The History of Labor’s Vote in Corporate Governance

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)697-753
Number of pages57
JournalSeattle University Law Review
Volume42
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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Abstract

Can there be democracy in America at work? The historical division
between democracy in politics and hierarchy in the economy is under
strain. Hierarchical interests in the economy are shifting their model of
power into politics, and yet a commitment to revive the law is resurgent.
Central examples are the proposed Accountable Capitalism Act, Reward
Work Act, Workplace Democracy Acts, and Employees’ Pension Security
Acts. They would create a right for employees to elect 40% of directors on
$1 billion company boards, a right for employees to elect one-third of
directors on other listed company boards and require one-half employee
representation on single-employer pension plans. All challenge long held
myths: that labor’s involvement in corporate governance is foreign to
American tradition, that when codified in law, labor voice is economically
inefficient; that the legitimate way to have voice in the economy is by
buying stocks; or that labor voice faces insurmountable legal obstacles.
This Article shows these myths are mistaken, by exploring the history and
evidence from 1861. The United States has one of the world’s strongest
traditions of democracy at work. Economic democracy has not been more
widespread primarily because it was suppressed by law. Americans favor
voice at work, while asset managers who monopolize shareholder votes
with “other people’s money” enjoy no legitimacy at all. This Article
concludes that, even without the federal government, and by recreating
themselves as laboratories of democracy and enterprise, states can adapt
the current proposals and rebuild a living law.

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