Worker Voice and Corporate Governance: Putting Words into Actions
The encouraging news is that in 2019 the Business Roundtable recanted on its 1997 statement. Its members recognized that prioritizing shareholder value had gone too far; now they again endorsed the principle that a corporation should be held responsible for addressing the interests of not only shareholders but also employees, communities, customers, suppliers, and the environment.
The central question left unanswered by the Business Roundtable is what changes in managerial behavior and organizational governance do its members propose to translate their newly crafted words into actions that might reverse the trends of the last four decades and contribute to a new, more productive and equitable social contract? Since these CEOs didn’t answer that question, I will propose that a good place to start would be accepting the need to restore worker voice and power in corporate decisionmaking. But doing so in a way that reverses the trends of the past four decades and is not subject to the changing attitudes or perspectives of CEOs will require fundamental changes in the governance structures and processes of American corporations.
A good deal of my recent research has focused on learning about what workers want from work and what they expect from their employers and, in turn, what unions and other worker advocacy groups are doing to rebuild worker voice and representation at work and in organizational decisionmaking. In what follows I will summarize what we are learning and then suggest what lessons it offers for the future of worker voice and corporate governance.
Thomas A. Kochan