Labor Unions and the Fight for Representational Equality


On June 27th of 2018, a decision was made by the United States’ Supreme Court that acutely altered the relationship between trade unions and employees. In the case of Janus v. AFSCME, the court ruled that trade unions are no longer able to collect agency fees from non-union members, overruling the previous case of Abood v. The Detroit Board of Education, where it was declared that public-sector employees “may be required to fund union activities related to collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment purposes” (Oluwole).

The problem, however, that has arisen due to Janus v. AFSCME, is the lack of access to funding from agency fees. This places the sole source of funding in union member’s required payment of dues. Labor unions regularly insert their influence into political campaigns by giving money directly to nominees who are in support of pro-union policies, such as higher minimum wage, more generous government health care, and a more progressive tax system, that low-income and working-class citizens generally also tend to support (Flavin, 2016).

With a decrease in funding, political representation of the working-class will continue to decrease.

Trade unions are a necessity in order to avoid underrepresentation of the working-class, and now with heightened restrictions on trade unions due to Janus v. AFSCME, trade unions will have to discover a new way to maintain their political voice.

Under-Representation of the Working-Class and Under-Privileged

The United States has two prominent, contemporary issues: income and representational inequality. These two disparities occur between the rich and the poor.

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Iit is, however, urgent to understand the difference in the interests of the less fortunate compared to wealthy and why they are different. Patrick Flavin elaborates on this in his journal Income Inequality and Policy Representation in the American States. Flavin identifies three causes for political ideological disparity: economic, social, and political.

Firstly, people living with different income levels require different material situations and, because of this, have different interests in regard to how the government should be assisting them (Flavin, 2011). For example, a wealthy household has little concern regarding daily survival and the consumption of essential goods due to their excess income, however, basic survival and necessities can become a persistent stressor for lower income persons continually further down the United State’s income levels. Secondly, a person’s “social networks” are directly related to their own economic status (Flavin, 2011).

Living in a wealthy, suburban neighborhood with a white picket fence and two car garage and socializing in an environment mostly populated with others from wealthy backgrounds helps to define similar political views. Similarly, living in a less fortunate neighborhood composed mostly of those from disadvantaged backgrounds will have the same materializing effect on opinions. Third and lastly, the political parties in the United States focus their “policy messages and mobilization efforts” according to demographic characteristics like income status (Flavin, 2011).

Considering Democrats traditionally receive increased support from citizens who receive low incomes, while the wealthier tend to give more support to the Republican Party, the two parties do what we would expect any party who’s main objective is to receive votes to do—identify their largest support base and target their campaign messages respectively.

This polarization of the Democrats and Republicans is similarly responsible for the disparity among political opinions just as income and social environment are. According to Harvard University’s Andrea Louis Campbell in a review of The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy, political participation rates in the United States vary by class, with wealthier and more educated individuals more likely to participate in every single kind of political activity.

The inequalities are smaller for time-based activities like working on campaigns, however, the inequalities are greatest when it comes to donating money (Campbell). This representational inequality undercuts the ideologies and needs of the less fortunate working-class because the voices of the affluent dominate congress, which in turn causes economic policy to shift in the favor of the conservative minority and almost forget about the well-being and interests of the less fortunate. This representational disparity is result of the income disparity in the United States because with less money, the less fortunate are less able to spend on politics to the extent that which the wealthy can.

Labor Union Necessity and Benefits of Representation

Labor unions help to correct the inequality of representation by giving a larger voice to those who may not necessarily have enough funds to donate to political campaigns in order to have their voice heard. Unions increase the influence of the working-class in two ways: mobilization and lobbying. First, the mobilization of the working-class can be described through Resource Mobilization Theory, which is defined by Kyle Albert of Cornell University as achieving political success through “acquiring resources and mobilizing those resources effectively toward desired ends” (Albert). This theory describes how unions are able to achieve their political means through money, manpower, and media attention.

Through a changing political environment, resource mobilization is useful for labor unions in areas where they are easily able to gain traction. Opposing this position is the lobbying method which can be described through resource dependency theory, which is “more concerned with how organizations respond to [political] environmental threats that may jeopardize resource flows” and “sees organizations as active shapers of their [political] environments” (Albert). This allows labor unions to directly invest in advocacy via political lobbying for certain policies or legislation that will benefit them and their workers. Through these two methods, labor unions are better able to represent the working-class in politics when they are unable to represent themselves.

The effects of these methods are evident in a study done by Patrick Flavin of Cambridge University. By using a proximity method, where the distance between the people’s political ideology, which was found through survey, and the political philosophy of the state’s legislation was measured based on a scale from -2 (very conservative) to +2 (very liberal), it was found that in states with more prominent labor unions, such as Minnesota, California, Michigan, and Wisconsin, there were greater similarities between the majority political ideologies of the people and the policies enacted by the state government.

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Labor Unions and the Fight for Representational Equality. (2021, Dec 31). Retrieved from

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