Volume 26

A Union for All: Collective Associations Outside the Workplace

by Christopher Bangs

Almost no attention has been paid to unions outside the workplace, but that does not mean they do not exist. In fact, collective associations are widely prevalent in numerous non-labor contexts, and the statutory schemes recognizing non-labor unions often provide them similar rights and authority. This is the first paper to survey and analyze state and federal law recognizing collective associations outside of the workplace, and it found significant positive law in the three areas surveyed: student unions, tenant unions, and resident unions. Twelve states and Puerto Rico assign significant rights and power to student associations, while fourteen other states and the District of Columbia assign advisory roles or limited institutional authority to student governments.  Three states offer expansive residential tenant rights, twenty-nine states offer limited protections for tenant union organizing but no collective certification process and little if any statutory support for tenant unions, and nineteen states extend specific and often robust rights to tenants of mobile and manufactured home parks.  Federal law creates a nation-wide right to organize resident associations at nursing homes receiving Medicaid or Medicare funds, and another fourteen states significantly expand residents’ rights and resident council power beyond the federal level, including eight which require that facilities create resident councils in some or all circumstances, rather than merely permitting or assisting them. This survey reveals widespread legal structures providing for and regulating non-labor unions.

The paper then proposes statutory changes that could further protect and expand collective associational rights outside of the workplace. It analyzes American labor law and First Amendment collective association constitutional jurisprudence to suggest how policy makers could create durable individual and collective rights.

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