A little-noticed battle raging in the Senate around the minimum-wage/gas-tax package speaks volumes about labor unions' apparent inability to adapt to the modern era. At issue is whether employees in nonunion shops should have the right to discuss production and workplace issues with management.
For many years the idea that managers should sit down with employees to plot strategy, improve quality and productivity, and discuss safety has spread throughout industry. It's been partly spurred by the example of "quality circles" and other cooperative efforts in Japanese and Swedish factories.
Management-labor cooperation instead of confrontation makes a lot of sense. The people actually doing the work often have a better handle on problems and their solutions than company executives in offices high above the shop floor or across the country. Worker suggestions on how to better manufacture a product or improve work flow have saved or made billions of dollars for American industry. Many companies, not just in manufacturing, would be far better off for consulting more regularly with their employees.
Unfortunately, unions are using a 1935 law to prohibit and inhibit nonunion companies from doing this. The National Labor Relations Act says that employers in nonunion companies cannot share decisionmaking with their workers.
In 1935 this provision of the law had a serious rationale. It was intended to prevent the formation of "company unions" that were sham organizations controlled by management to keep real unions out. At a time when a 19th-century hierarchical labor-management model prevailed in American …