The new book Regoverning the Workplace: From Self-Regulation to Co-Regulation by Cynthia Estlund, Catherine A. Rein Professor of Law, examines the decline of collective bargaining and rise of employment law, and advocates a shift from employer self-regulation toward a workplace governance that includes workers themselves.

While acknowledging that self-regulation is an entrenched system, Estlund argues that workers should claim a voice within that system. Regoverning the Workplace had its origins in an article, “The Ossification of American Labor Law,” which Estlund published in the Columbia Law Review in 2002. While writing that piece, Estlund noted the contrast between two legal disciplines governing the working world.

“Labor law is supposed to enable workers to advance their own interests through peaceful self-help,” she said. “But employment law seemed to provide so many more resources and footholds for workers and their advocates to pursue their interests. So I began looking closely at the structures of workplace governance—of ‘corporate compliance’ and self-regulation—that are already developing under the shadow of employment law, and thinking about how those structures can be made to work better for employees.” The result of Estlund’s further scrutiny is a book suggesting a new model of self-regulation that relies on public and private enforcers for its implementation and that is overseen by independent outside actors.

Her approach, Estlund says, is a practical one. “I am still a fan of unions and collective bargaining, and a proponent of labor law reform that makes it easier for workers to choose unionization. But I think it’s clear by now—when only eight percent of workers are represented by a union—that we also need other ways for employees to participate in workplace governance."

Posted on April 8, 2010