American Ghent: Designing Programs to Strengthen Unions and Improve Government Services
The Ghent system—an arrangement whereby trade unions help deliver government-supported unemployment insurance—exists in its truest form only in a handful of countries, including Sweden, Belgium, and Denmark. However, the United States has a number of Ghent-like policies where unions deliver or help people access governmental benefits—including workforce training, retirement benefits, and enforcement of workplace laws. Expanding upon these models would increase union membership and improve the quality of public programs in the United States.
The United States has a different history than that which created the unemployment insurance system in Sweden and other Ghent countries. However, unions in America do assist workers in analogous ways. For example, they have partnered with state and local governments to improve training for health care workers in Washington state and city employees in Toledo, Ohio. Unions and worker organizations have also engaged in co-enforcement with municipalities in San Francisco and Los Angeles to boost compliance with state and local labor laws. And in several cases, they have helped workers navigate retirement and health benefit plans. These models have proven successful at improving the quality of government services and at providing an opportunity for union recruitment. They could be significantly expanded to build a robust Ghent-like system in America.
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Senior Fellow; Senior Adviser, American Worker Project