Print Issue Volume 98 - No. 5

Whither Wagner? Reconsidering Labor Law and Policy Reform

Although Canada and the United States have both adopted labor relations legal frameworks based on the Wagner model, labor relations have played out very differently in the two countries. This is particularly evident in the countries’ divergent trajectories of changing union density. In recent decades the United States has experienced a steep, sustained decline in unionization, while Canadian unionization has seen a slow decline and overall stagnation in union density. This prompts the question addressed in this Article: will the labor relations experiences of these closely linked nations continue to diverge, or will Canada’s labor relations landscape come to resemble that of the United States? This Article focuses on two alternative, but related, perspectives for explaining the different labor relations experiences of the United States and Canada, offering insights into their likely futures: John Godard’s Historical-Institutionalist perspective, and Harry Arthurs’ “Real” Constitution perspective. Past and current efforts to introduce right-to-work measures (defined broadly) and the labor movements’ recent countervailing efforts are considered in light of these perspectives. This Article concludes by considering which perspective is likely to be borne out in the context of contemporary events and, specifically, whether these attempts are likely to succeed. In short, despite the protection offered by Canada’s juridical constitution, the question remains whether its “real” constitution has undergone greater, countervailing change reflecting a fundamental shift in the nation’s norms and values such that labor law will follow.

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