Art: Charter

In 2023, business leaders across industries contended with a broad call for more responsive, democratic workplaces, exemplified by a resurgent labor movement. Nearly half a million workers withheld their labor in 354 strikes in just the first 10 months of the year—roughly four times as many as went on strike over the same time frame in 2022—and the number of petitions for union representation has continually increased over the past two years.

Employees have also demanded a greater say in the workplace beyond unionization. Led in part by the youngest generation of workers, they have challenged leaders to build more ethical and humane workplaces on issues as diverse as compensation, hiring, paid leave, social and political issues, and the return to office. Some 38% of workers were involved in employee-led activism in 2019—defined as speaking up to support or criticize an employer’s actions over a controversial issue that affects society—according to a report from public relations firm Weber Shandwick.

Sign up for Charter's newsletter to get the handbook for the future of work delivered to your inbox.

However you choose to explain this mass activation of workers of all kinds across the US—the economic and social shocks of the Covid pandemic, the high inflation that followed, decades of rising inequality and especially rising CEO pay, a surprisingly and sustained strong labor market, access to social media enabling solidarity with disparate workers and easy access to public attention—the message is clear: Working people want more power over the terms and conditions of their work.

Instead of viewing organizing as a threat or incursion, enlightened employers will find the opportunity in it. The same mechanisms that make a workplace more democratic, collaborative, and fair also can support and expand existing company priorities, from improving products and adopting new technologies to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. While some business leaders have opted for the same tired tactics to undermine worker empowerment in favor of top-down control, a raft of innovations in worker voice, worker representation, and collaborations with labor unions offer an alternative path forward.

To help organizations apply these ideas, Charter and the Aspen Business Roundtable on Organized Labor have partnered to produce The Shared Power Advantage: How to build a thriving company where workers have a seat at the table. The playbook includes strategies for leaders hoping to strengthen their workplaces by empowering their employees, including:

  • Employee representatives on corporate boards
  • Forms of worker ownership, combined with a culture of ownership that allows employees to weigh in on important issues.
  • Responses to labor organizing that affirm and protect workers’ right to organize, including organization-wide labor principles, neutrality agreements, voluntary recognition, and strategies for negotiating first contracts
  • Strategies to maintain collaborative and trusting relationships with labor unions, including labor-management committees, long-term shared projects outside of the scope of bargaining contracts, and accountability measures

Download the full playbook on Charter’s website for case studies from companies and worker organizations, special considerations gleaned from expert advice, and spotlights on key issues.

Read more from Charter

The handbook for the future of work, delivered to your inbox.