Attack on unions shows why we need a new social contract governing work

Source: Thomas Kochan, The Conversation, January 13, 2016

….Labor legislation passed in the New Deal (minimum wages and overtime protections, social security, unemployment insurance and the right to unionize) provided the foundation for that social contract, and collective bargaining made it work by negotiating wage increases in tandem with productivity growth.

But at least in part because those policies and practices could not cope well with developments since 1980 – such as globalization and corporate short-termism – the country has experienced three decades of wage stagnation, rising income inequality and the erosion of the social safety net that was designed to ensure basic protections and minimum employment standards.

Restoring such a safety net, which would be further eroded if the Supreme Court rules against the unions, will require broadening the circle of debate to engage the powerful interest groups that don’t necessarily share the view that changes are needed…..

….Here are three high-priority ideas highlighted by participants at his gathering [White House Summit on Worker Voice] that can help us reach a new compact and deserve broader discussion.

How to wean social benefits from employment.
A major point of debate at the meeting was whether or not the economy, business and workforce would all be better off if we could sever the safety net from employers. That is, should we separate the funding and coverage for benefits such as health insurance, retirement savings and sick and family leave from individual employment relationships?…

A new way to regulate and enforce standards
Another area of discussion was how to modernize regulation and enforcement of employment standards….

Breaking the chains of our ossified labor law
Unlike the debate at the Supreme Court, participants in this meeting focused on how to rebuild bargaining power so workers have an effective voice in shaping the future of work. There was a crucial breakthrough over this issue….