Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Non-union employee representation in North America: diversity, controversy and uncertain future1

Document type Article
Author Taras, Daphne G.
Author Kaufman, Bruce E.
Journal Industrial Relations Journal
Volume 37
Date 2006 09
ISSN 0019-8692, 1468-2338
Pages 513-542


The diverse conceptual perspectives and practical experiences with non-union employee representation (NER) in the USA and Canada are reviewed. We first propose a six-dimensional descriptive schema to categorise observed NER practices. Dimensions of diversity include (i) form; (ii) function; (iii) subjects; (iv) representational modes; (v) extent of power; (vi) degree of permanence. We then turn to the NER controversy, which is a tangled skein consisting of many different threads of values and prescriptions. To unbundle the controversy, we develop four ‘faces’ of NER—(i) evolutionary voice; (ii) unity of interest; (iii) union avoidance; and (iv) complementary voice—so that future research can more consciously test the validity of competing perspectives with hard data. Generalising about NER is problematic because of these many dimensions of diversity, and because NER is viewed through different ideological and conceptual lenses. We conclude that NER’s future trajectory is uncertain due to conflicting trends but in the short run is most likely to remain a modest-sized phenomenon.