Law and the Multiverse Holiday Special – Labor Day Edition

Today is Labor Day in the United States, a holiday that celebrates workers and the labor movement (it also celebrates hamburgers, if most people’s Labor Day activities are anything to go by).  Unionization doesn’t make sense for most superheroes (they work for free, after all), but there are some exceptions.  For example, in some continuities the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are basically federal employees, and many federal employees are union members.  Although some superheroes who work for S.H.I.E.L.D. / the Avengers don’t have much use for a union (e.g. Tony Stark is independently wealthy and Thor is a god), folks like Nick Fury are regular employees for whom union benefits would be pretty appealing, and there are countless non-superhero employees working in the background.

So could S.H.I.E.L.D. unionize?  Maybe, maybe not.

Federal employee unions are governed by the Federal Labor Relations Act (whereas most unions are governed by the National Labor Relations Act).  However, the FLRA specifically excludes certain agencies from coverage, including the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and the Secret Service.  The exclusion of these law enforcement and espionage agencies suggests that S.H.I.E.L.D. might be excluded in the Marvel Universe.  On the other hand, however, some other law enforcement and defense agencies are unionized or in the process of unionizing, including the Transportation Security Administration, the National Park Service, the Border Patrol, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, and the Department of Defense (the civilian workers, not the armed forces, which are forbidden from unionizing by 10 USC 976).  So it’s possible that S.H.I.E.L.D. employees could unionize.

In general the FLRA works like the NLRA, although federal unions cannot create “union shops” in which employees are required to join the union in order to work for the agency.  They also cannot strike.  Thus, S.H.I.E.L.D. employees could always choose not to join the union.  The benefits of a union formed under the FLRA include collective bargaining rights, the right to file grievances, and the right to protection from unfair labor practices.  Like most unions it would probably be more concerned with working conditions and compensation for regular workers than, say, hazard pay for fighting Kang the Conqueror.

From a comic book writer’s perspective it’s unfortunate that federal employee unions can’t go on strike.  Otherwise it might lead to some pretty funny scenarios.  Can you imagine the Avengers forming a picket line or the government bringing in some B-list superhero scabs?

Update: Over at Abnormal Use they have a class Justice League cover featuring striking superheroes.

8 responses to “Law and the Multiverse Holiday Special – Labor Day Edition

  1. The idea of the government bringing in B-list superhero scabs has potential. What if the superhero group were a state or city agency instead of federal?

  2. How about the employees of Project Pegasus, or guards at The Vault? I think they’re more likely candidates for unionization, and more directly Federal employees. S.H.I.E.L.D. has only occasionally been a US government agency, most of the time it’s a UN body.

    On the villains’ side, we can’t forget the Serpent Society, who were probably the longest-running and most successful Super-Villain union.

  3. Well there’s always the amusing possibilities of a superhero sick-out, which is what the police, firefighters, and other civil service unions will resort to instead of a strike. “What do you mean Captain America, Bruce Banner and Thor called in sick to work? Can they even GET sick? Quick, someone call up that Great Lakes team…”

    • Seriously though, Avengers reserve status was invented to cover this sort of thing with Hawkeye getting a stipend of $100 a month in exchange for him being asked to fill in if such an emergency were to occur. Then there was Thunderstrike specifically filling in for Thor, War Machine specifically filling in for Iron Man and U S Agent specifically filling in for Captain America. When Spider-Man became an Avenger he was actually filling in for somebody else. I forget whom.

  4. There’s a great series of short stories called Union Dues by Jeffrey DeRego that’s about a super hero union. Many of the stories have been made into podcasts that you can listen to here:

  5. @Decius: heh, the Cape Flu!

  6. IIRC during the AIM – Hydra wars, there were a few discussions between base level soldiers on various sides comparing benefits and wages. I remember that AIM had great dental care, but the Hydra Supreme Commander was less likely to kill you out of pique than Modok.

  7. I can see this happening on a series like “Avengers Assemble”. I’ll see if I can pitch the idea to the show’s creators for next season.

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