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Warren Supports ‘Sectoral Bargaining.’ Here’s What That Means

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at a presidential forum hosted by the Service Employees International Union. (Facebook)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at a presidential forum hosted by the Service Employees International Union. (Facebook)
October 9, 2019

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is getting some attention for her recently released labor platform, which focuses on unions and "sectoral bargaining," a concept new to most Americans.

Sectoral bargaining is when an entire field or industry agrees on basics, such as safety standards or minimum wages, rather than each company bargaining with its own workers.

Benjamin Sachs, professor of labor and industry at Harvard Law School, said it's worth noting because union membership has decreased in the United States. He said he thinks that's partly because of the way businesses or enterprises handle their bargaining now.

"The problem with enterprise bargaining," he said, "is that as soon as you have a union in one enterprise, that puts that enterprise at a competitive disadvantage with all the other enterprises in the same market."

Warren has asserted that if every company in an industry had the same bargaining terms, none would be at a competitive disadvantage about those issues. Sectoral bargaining is used in many European countries, but the idea still is new to the United States.

While fewer Americans are union members than in the past, Sachs argued that doesn't mean unions are less popular. According to Gallup polling, Americans increasingly have approved of labor unions since 2009, soon after the recession.

"The public support for unions has been on the increase," he said. "You can see that in polling data; you can see that actually in the resurgence of labor activity around the country - the teacher strikes, for emample, the Google walkout, the Wayfair walkout here in Massachusetts."

Sectoral bargaining proponents have argued that it could address issues such as the gig economy, but California's recent gig-economy law didn't include anything about sectoral bargaining - or even workers' rights to form a union.

The Warren labor platform is online at medium.com.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - MA