State and Local Policies and Sectoral Labor Standards: From Individual Rights to Collective Power

Ken Jacobs, Rebecca Smithand Justin McBride


The United States enterprise-based collective bargaining regime creates substantial limitations for organizing workers where supply chains are increasingly disaggregated in ways that reduce worker power. Federal labor law generally preempts state and local policies that directly address private sector bargaining. State and local governments, however, are not preempted from setting general labor standards. We look at four cases of recent experiments at the local level with sectoral standards. Our cases show that sectoral standards have the potential to expand new forms of social bargaining at the state and local level through public policy in areas of the country where worker organizations are already strong. They can do so in ways that promote worker organization and build institutional power, especially when combined with robust worker organizing. In doing so they show both the potential power, and limitations, of federalism in US workplace regulation.