In Information and the Market for Union Representation, Professor Matthew Bodie provides an instructive framework for addressing information deficiencies in union elections. His consumer or “purchase of services” paradigm is apt and well illustrates the shortcomings of the more dominant approaches to elections. The extent to which this paradigm should drive the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) regulation of union elections is less obvious. The best fit with Bodie’s consumer paradigm appears to be a system in which employees can easily designate a union as their representative, yet can just as easily get rid of the union. In other words, employees, like many other consumers, could purchase union services with the knowledge that they can easily change their mind later. It is not clear, however, whether the benefits associated with that model are worth its costs.
Bodie rightly decries the NLRB’s failure to ensure that employees have access to the information needed to make a fully informed decision whether to unionize. In particular, his criticism of the NLRB’s “laboratory conditions” and “political elections” models provides valuable insights into the nature of the union election process and raises important questions about the governance of elections. Yet his consumer paradigm is no panacea. For example, employees’ collective decision whether to unionize differs from a typical consumer decision, which generally does not face concerns from a group of dissenting members. Moreover, even if employees are acting as consumers when voting on union representation, there is a real danger of taking that model too far. The informational concerns that Bodie emphasizes may lead to changes with significant costs of their own. Thus, I am not convinced that the gains from a consumer approach to union elections are large enough to warrant the regulatory response it demands.
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