Rebuilding Collective Bargaining Back Better

Date: December 17, 2020

The erosion of worker bargaining power and collective bargaining have led to wage suppression, the deterioration of labor’s share of income and made our democracy less robust. The struggle of workers in the pandemic to obtain safe working conditions and adequate pay has only heightened awareness of the need to increase worker bargaining power. Accordingly, bold and robust policy proposals to strengthen workers’ bargaining power, including by President-elect Biden, have become a priority for the center-left.

President-elect Biden has produced an extensive proposal to strengthen workers’ ability to form unions and a comprehensive reform of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives.

A full appreciation of the need for comprehensive labor law reform requires an understanding of the serious shortcomings in current law and how they were exploited by employers resisting efforts by their workers to form unions. On Thursday, December 17, EPI hosted an event that highlighted a paper from EPI’s Unequal Power (UP) initiative, “Explaining the erosion of private-sector unions: How corporate practices and legal changes have undercut the ability of workers to organize and bargain,” by EPI Distinguished Fellow Lawrence Mishel, Georgetown University Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor Associate Director Lane Windham, and EPI Senior Fellow Lynn Rhinehart. This paper documents how corporations exploited the weak labor law regime in the United States to legally and illegally thwart union organizing and robust bargaining, especially in the 1970s, thus closing off unions’ ability to bring in new members and grow along with the economy.

Amy Waters, RN, CPN, who was part of a recently successful union drive at Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, detailed the barriers to obtaining collective bargaining and securing safe working conditions during the pandemic.

EPI Director of Government Affairs and Labor Counsel Celine McNicholas presented evidence of the still ever-present, extensive legal and illegal corporate practices that deny workers’ ability to obtain collective bargaining.

William Spriggs, Chief Economist at the AFL-CIO and Professor at Howard University, detailed the adverse impact of the decline of collective bargaining on middle-class wage growth, racial equity, and democracy.

For updates and to share this event on social media, use #RebuildCollectiveBargaining.


Lawrence Mishel, Distinguished Fellow, Economic Policy Institute
Lane Windham, Associate Director, Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, Georgetown University
Amy Waters, RN, CPN, Mission Hospital, and Member, National Nurses United
Celine McNicholas, Director of Government Affairs and Labor Counsel, Economic Policy Institute
William Spriggs, Chief Economist, AFL-CIO, and Professor, Howard University

Moderated by Lynn Rhinehart, Senior Fellow, Economic Policy Institute

What: A webinar highlighting a paper from EPI’s Unequal Power (UP) initiative. We heard from a nurse in National Nurses United, who detailed fighting for safety during a pandemic, followed by discussions on the continuing corporate assault on the right to organize and why collective bargaining is essential for middle-class wage growth, achieving racial equity, and preserving democracy.

When: Thursday, December 17
4 p.m.—5:15 p.m. ET / 1 p.m.— 2:15 p.m. PT

Where: Zoom, YouTube