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The Ossification of American Labor Law

Cynthia L. Estlund
Columbia Law Review
Vol. 102, No. 6 (Oct., 2002), pp. 1527-1612
DOI: 10.2307/1123792
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1123792
Page Count: 86
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The Ossification of American Labor Law
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Abstract

In this Article, Professor Estlund argues that the ineffectuality of American labor law and the shrinking scope of collective representation are partly traceable to the law's "ossification" and its longstanding insulation from democratic renewal and local innovation. The elements of this process of ossification are various and mostly familiar; yet together they make up an impressive set of barriers to innovation. The basic text has been practically unamendable for a half-century, and the regime it creates has been cut off from "market"-based competition from employers, from the creative pressure of private litigation, from state and local innovation, from changing constitutional doctrine, and from emerging transnational legal norms. Moreover, the National Labor Relations Board, charged with interpreting and administering the labor laws in light of modern conditions, is increasingly hemmed in by the age of the text and the cumulative impact of stare decisis. While the argument may seem to counsel only pessimism about the prospects for reform, it may also help to identify potential pathways of change that have not been fully appreciated. Some of those pathways are being paved by the process of ossification itself: By impelling private parties to find their own paths outside of the existing legal regime, the ossification of labor law is setting in motion forces that may eventually produce legal change.

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