Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 155, Issue 4, pp 1033–1051 | Cite as

Rekindling Union Democracy Through the Use of Sortition

  • Simon PekEmail author
Original Paper


There is a long-standing and growing interest in democratizing labor unions. Union democracy is important for many reasons, including fostering greater member voice in the workplace and society, improving the internal effectiveness of unions, building members’ capacities to engage in democracy in other contexts, and helping foster union renewal. Despite these benefits, democracy in unions as practiced today is characterized by several problems. In this paper, I analyze several of the remedies to increase union democracy proposed to date by scholars and practitioners, finding that despite their potential positive impacts, many of them may have inherent limitations. I then argue that sortition—the use of lotteries in selecting leaders—shows potential in helping address many of the problems facing union democracy and overcoming the limitations of recent remedies. An important democratic tool in Ancient Athens and other city-states, sortition has a long history in political theory and practice, yet application to unions is in its infancy. I conclude by developing and evaluating several ways in which sortition could be used as a tool in union governance structures, and by discussing the implications of my theorizing for ongoing work on union democracy and union renewal.


Union democracy Union governance Workplace democracy Demarchy Sortition Union renewal 



I would like to thank the editor, Edmund Byrne, and the three anonymous reviewers for their very thoughtful and constructive engagement with this paper. I would also like to thank Adam Cronkright, Tao Wang, Brandon Froh, Armando Martins, Francisco Brahm, and participants at the 2017 Sustainability, Ethics, and Entrepreneurship Conference for their feedback on earlier versions of this paper.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest



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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Beedie School of BusinessVancouverCanada

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