Union Organizing Decisions in a Deteriorating Environment: The Composition of Representation Elections and the Decline in Turnout

Source: Henry Farber, ILR Review, Vol. 68 no. 5, October 2015
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From the abstract:
It is well known that the organizing environment for labor unions in the United States has deteriorated dramatically over a long period of time, a situation that has contributed to the sharp decline in the private-sector union membership rate and resulted in many fewer representation elections. What is less well known is that since the late 1990s, average turnout in the representation elections that are held has dropped substantially. These facts are related. The author develops a model of how unions select targets for organizing through the NLRB election process that clearly implies that a deteriorating organizing environment will lead to systematic change in the composition of elections held. The model implies that a deteriorating environment will lead unions not only to contest fewer elections but also to focus on larger potential bargaining units and on elections where they have a larger probability of winning. A standard rational-voter model implies that these changes in composition will lead to lower turnout. The author investigates the implications of these models empirically, using data on turnout in more than 140,000 NLRB certification elections held between 1973 and 2009. The results are consistent with the model and suggest that changes in composition account for about one-fifth of the decline in turnout between 1999 and 2009.