Vanderbilt Law Review


Lee Modjeska

First Page



Much has been said of the deteriorating condition and possible fall of the house of labor.' This Essay contains some idiosyncratic reflections on certain aspects of the situation. Contrary to the mainstream of thought, my suspicion, to use Justice Frankfurter's words, is that those"economic and social concerns that are the raison d'etre of unions"remain dominant in our society, that unionism may be inevitable if not indispensable, and that our days of relative labor calm may be ending.National labor policy repeatedly has recognized the reality of modern society, viewed against a long history of industrial unrest, that a union is essential to ensure equality of bargaining power between employees and employers. Intolerable employment situations necessitated the organization of American unions. Individual workers, dependent on their daily wage and unable to move, were helpless against employer mistreatment. Group strength, channeled into the collective bargaining process, gave the worker the power to be heard and counted with the least adverse impact upon interstate commerce. Justice Brennan captured these fundamental organizational-representational principles: "National labor policy has been built on the premise that by pooling their economic strength and acting through a labor organization freely chosen by the majority, the employees of an appropriate unit have the most effective means of bargaining for improvements in wages, hours, and working conditions."Solidarity principles nurtured in the industrial revolution have not withered through evolution of a service and distribution economy. On the contrary, solidarity principles were unequivocally revalidated in the service context when the United States Congress in 1974 eliminated then on profit hospital exemption from the National Labor Relations Act(NLRA). Congress expressly determined that unionization was necessary to remedy the inferior wages, hours, and working conditions of dis-enfranchised health care employees and the concomitant adverse impact on the delivery of quality health care services.'

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