• Home
  • >
  • Labor
  • Unions: Could ‘Sectoral Bargaining’ Transform Labor Landscape?

Unions: Could ‘Sectoral Bargaining’ Transform Labor Landscape?

A man in a black suit loosening his tie, sectoral bargaining

The explosive growth of ride-hailing services disrupted the age-old taxi industry. Now, the drivers at Uber, Lyft and similar companies could disrupt another age-old concept: collective bargaining.

Low-wage workers, including those working for fast-food chains and nail salons, are fighting for higher pay, sick leave and other benefits, but efforts to unionize on a company-by-company, and even a location-by-location basis are running into roadblocks. The result is a push for sectoral negotiations, where collective bargaining takes place across an entire industry either on a national or regional level, setting minimum standards instead of seeing just how far they can depress wages, Fast Company reported.

Some 1.7 million people drive for Uber and Lyft and 5.2 million others work in fast-food.

Chicago labor attorney Chiquita Hall, who has been dealing with the issue of whether contractors are actually employees, told The Food Institute sectoral bargaining has great potential for creating equity across an industry and empowering workers, but, at the same time, it could make companies less profitable and harm workers, especially if work hours are restricted.

“Ride-share is a great place to start,” Hall said. “What I do when I go in different cities, I order a ride-share and ask the driver why they’re driving. Very often they’ve left a toxic work environment, or they were laid off after 20-plus years and who’s going to hire them at the same rate of pay. Hands down, this is the best way for them to hold things together.

“Yes, they have flexibility, but are they truly independent? That’s the question that needs to be answered.”


California labor attorney Richard M. Noack said forms of sectoral bargaining already exist in two areas: government projects where companies – union and non-union alike – have to agree to certain minimums to get the contract, and multi-employer bargaining for companies that are members of associations.

“Despite these two anomalies, significant revisions to federal labor policy would need to be made for the concept of sectoral negotiations to be considered in the United States,” Noack said. “Federal labor policy that has existed for nearly 90 years in the United States focuses on the core principle of bargaining between individual employers and the unions representing a majority of their employees in appropriate bargaining units.”

Lenny Peña told Fast Company that when he first began driving for Uber in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 2017, he was able to make $3,000 a week, driving seven to eight hours a day. But then the company changed its pay structure, netting him just $25 for a ride today that used to pay him $60. Now he finds himself driving 16 hours a day for both Uber and Lyft, seven days a week.

Angelica Hernandez said she has worked for McDonald’s for 18 years in California, describing “deplorable conditions” like a plumbing problem that left her standing in sewage. She also told Fast Company she had been the victim of wage theft and sexual harassment. She’s not alone.

“All of us are suffering the same things,” she said through a translator. “It’s not just happening at McDonald’s. Anyone working in fast food or restaurants is going through similar things. We all need change. We need dignity for all of us as workers.”


Sectoral bargaining often involves a council made up of government officials, industry representatives, employee representatives and facilitators who negotiate workplace standards that are applied across the board. The system already is used in Europe and elsewhere.

Kam Talebi of Butcher’s Tale told The Food Institute any such negotiations in the restaurant industry likely will result in the doubling of menu prices.

Talebi suggested instead turning servers into sales people who work on commission.

“This keeps the servers motivated,” Talebi said.

The Food Institute Podcast

Click the play button above to listen to the episode.

How did a small sub shop from Point Pleasant, New Jersey, grow into a 2,400-store operation across 50 states? Jersey Mike’s Franchise Systems Inc. senior vice president Caroline Jones shares the company’s evolution after deciding to franchise the concept in 1987. Additionally, Jones shares stories of growing up in the business, and how the company’s philanthropic efforts help to endear franchise locations to each community they serve.