Non-union employee representation in North America: diversity, controversy and uncertain future1


  • Daphne G. Taras,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Human Resources and Organizational Dynamics in the Haskayne School of Business; Institute for Advanced Policy Research, at University of Calgary
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Bruce E. Kaufman

    Corresponding author
    1. Georgia State University; W. T. Beebe Institute of Personnel and Employment Relations
    Search for more papers by this author

Professor Taras at or to Professor Bruce Kaufman, Department of Economics, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA 30303, USA; email:


The diverse conceptual perspectives and practical experiences with non-union employee representation (NER) in the USA and Canada are reviewed. We first propose a six-dimensional descriptive schema to categorise observed NER practices. Dimensions of diversity include (i) form; (ii) function; (iii) subjects; (iv) representational modes; (v) extent of power; (vi) degree of permanence. We then turn to the NER controversy, which is a tangled skein consisting of many different threads of values and prescriptions. To unbundle the controversy, we develop four ‘faces’ of NER—(i) evolutionary voice; (ii) unity of interest; (iii) union avoidance; and (iv) complementary voice—so that future research can more consciously test the validity of competing perspectives with hard data. Generalising about NER is problematic because of these many dimensions of diversity, and because NER is viewed through different ideological and conceptual lenses. We conclude that NER’s future trajectory is uncertain due to conflicting trends but in the short run is most likely to remain a modest-sized phenomenon.