Token Presence or Substantive Participation? A Study of Labor Trustees on Pension boards

Source: Anil Verma and Johanna Weststar, Journal of Labor Research, Volume 32, Number 1, March 2011
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From the abstract:
In contrast to their absence from corporate boards in North America, labor representatives do have a seat on many pension boards. Given the lack of research on the role of labor participation in these fora, this study reports findings from a survey of labor trustees. We find that labor trustees make greater contributions to procedure-oriented processes such as information sharing, rule-making and rule interpretation; and, fewer contributions to investment-oriented processes such as investment decisions, fund performance and manager selection. Gender does not seem to matter in explaining participation in board activities. Accountability in terms of a requirement to report back to their union did increase labor trustee contribution but only to procedural issues, not investment issues. Short board tenure, lack of multiple labor seats and lack of training appear to limit labor trustees’ contribution to investment-based issues. Prior exposure to pension issues, and longer tenure appear to increase contributions to procedure-based issues. Exclusionary board dynamics hinder both types of contributions by labor trustees. These findings suggest that labor trustees do take advantage of their position to make procedural contributions but they find it hard to expand into newer, non-traditional roles such as investment-related activities of the Board.

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