Who Is a Worker? Partisanship, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Social Content of Employment

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)815-847
Journal / PublicationLaw and Social Inquiry
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2012
Externally publishedYes


In opinions addressing whether graduate students, medical residents, and disabled workers in nonstandard work arrangements are employees under the National Labor Relations Act, I analyze partisan differences in how National Labor Relations Board members, under the previous two US presidents, confronted the contradictory permeation of wage-labor into relatively noncommodified relationships. I argue that Republicans mediated the contradictions by interpreting indicia of employer property rights as status authority. They constructed employment as a contractual relationship consummated through exchange relations and demarcated a nonmarket social sphere in which to locate the relationships before them. This construction suppressed the class dimension of employment and the connection between relations of production and relations in production (Burawoy 1979). Democrats mediated the contradictions by recognizing them in part and arguing that the workers were engaged in commodity production. They proposed the Act as a means for workers to negotiate "differentiated ties" (Zelizer 2005) in nonstandard employment. © 2012 American Bar Foundation.