Category Archives: Labor Unions

Measuring the Effect of Public-Sector Unionization on Criminal Justice Public Policy

Source: Derek Cohen and Jay Kennedy, University of Cincinnati, November 2012

From a press release:
…UC’s Kennedy and Cohen used a range of data going back as far as 15 years to test three broad impacts that popular wisdom sometimes ascribes to unions. They examined
– whether what’s called “public choice theory,” another way of saying that individual voters vote to benefit themselves, can be applied to collective bargaining units. “Public choice theory” stands in opposition to “communal will theory,” where it’s posited that individual voters opt for the good of the many or group vs. their own individual goods.
– whether unions associated with the criminal justice system engage in “competitive rent seeking,” seeking to maximize specific expenditures into the criminal justice system above and beyond a cost-recovery level in order to benefit specific unions, say a police vs. a corrections union.
– whether states with more liberal ideologies are likely to have smaller per-capita prison populations, and, alternately, whether states that are less liberal have higher incarceration rates. (The researchers are interested whether more-liberal states with stronger unions associated with the criminal justice system might not have harsher laws/sentencing requirements as a means of “guaranteeing concentrated benefits” or prosperity for unions associated with the criminal justice system.)….

…In their research, Kennedy and Cohen found that, yes, when unions associated with the criminal justice system make expenditures related to state issues, there is a broad, diffuse impact. In other words, if one union spends to support an issue benefiting functions in the criminal justice system, the state’s broad public safety sector is likely to generally benefit in the form of more funding, but not necessarily the specific union or sector that made the expenditure….Correspondingly, they found no evidence that competitive rent seeking was taking place. In other words, there is no lion’s share of the spoils (in the form of jobs) going to any specific union making expenditures on behalf of a state issue. So, in general, a specific union making ballot initiative expenditures will not see a relative increase in employment numbers one year on….

Organized Labor, Democracy, and Life Satisfaction: A Cross-National Analysis

Source: Lauren Keane, Alexander Pacek, Benjamin Radcliff, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 37 no. 3, September 2012

From the abstract:
In this paper we attempt to assess how labor unions affect cross-national variation in life satisfaction. We argue that cross-national differences in the extent of labor organization play a significant role in determining why citizens in some nations express greater subjective satisfaction with life than others. We examine this proposition using data on nations that cover the political and economic spectrum. To anticipate our findings, we show that individual union membership has a consistent positive effect on individual well-being. Our main focus, though, is the effects of the national level of union density on the general, overall level of satisfaction within a country, considering both union members and nonmembers. We find that union density is strongly associated with the general level of well-being but that this effect is conditioned, as we expect, by the level of democracy: in democratic countries, union density produces greater levels of life satisfaction, while in highly authoritarian settings, it appears to reduce satisfaction. In each case, these effects obtain for members and nonmembers alike, thus highlighting the importance of labor unions for the general, overall level of quality of life across nations

The Rise of the Super-Rich: Power Resources, Taxes, Financial Markets, and the Dynamics of the Top 1 Percent, 1949 to 2008

Source: Thomas W. Volscho and Nathan J. Kelly, American Sociological Review, Vol. 77 no. 5, October 2012
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The income share of the super-rich in the United States has grown rapidly since the early 1980s after a period of postwar stability. What factors drove this change? In this study, we investigate the institutional, policy, and economic shifts that may explain rising income concentration. We use single-equation error correction models to estimate the long- and short-run effects of politics, policy, and economic factors on pretax top income shares between 1949 and 2008. We find that the rise of the super-rich is the result of rightward-shifts in Congress, the decline of labor unions, lower tax rates on high incomes, increased trade openness, and asset bubbles in stock and real estate markets.

We Can't Win This on Our Own: Unions, Firms, and Mobilization of External Allies in Labor Disputes

Source: Marc Dixon, Andrew W. Martin, American Sociological Review, Published online before print October 18, 2012
(subscriotion required)

From the abstract:
To cope with steep losses in membership and eroding legal protections, some unions have begun to look outward for help. Scholars likewise point to broad-based coalitions as a potential route to labor’s revitalization. Yet surprisingly little is known about union coalition work, from when and why it occurs to what union allies typically bring to the table. We take up these issues with a unique dataset on strike events from the 1990s and 2000s, contributing to labor and social movement research. First, we show that despite considerable academic interest in union outreach to other social movements, this phenomenon remains fairly rare. Second, our findings demonstrate how the immediate threat to unions posed by employer intransigence matters not just for the mobilization of external allies, as the social movement literature would expect, but also for the assistance brought to bear by those allies, which has received relatively little attention from scholars. Third, although we find important distinctions in unions’ propensity for outreach, results suggest a more nuanced picture of union activity than previously conceived. In various ways during strike events, both social movement unions (typically highlighted in the literature) and declining industrial unions are turning to coalition partners.

Unions Are Necessary to Rebuilding Our Middle Class

Source: David Madland and Nick Bunker, Center for American Progress, September 12, 2012

By advancing the interests of the middle class in the workplace and in our democracy, unions help build and strengthen the middle class.
Unions Boost Economic Mobility in U.S. States
Source: David Madland and Nick Bunker, Center for American Progress, September 20, 2012

States with Stronger Unions Have Stronger Middle Classes
Source: David Madland and Nick Bunker, Center for American Progress, September 21, 2012

Getting It Right: Public Sector Unions

Source: Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld and Craig Olson, Perspectives on Work, Online Companion, no. 13, Spring 2012

The interview with Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld and Craig Olson on May 3, 2011, began with host David Inge making an observation that the past months having been the most serious threat to organized labor since President Reagan fired the air traffic controllers in 1981. Inge asked, “Where are we now and why is it that there is this pressure on public sector unions?”
See also:
Research paper

How Do You Build a Union for the 21st Century? (Step 1: Learn From History)

Source: Sara Horowitz, Atlantic, September 3 2012

The next generation of organized labor should be about something more than recovering middle-class wages. It should be about recovering a middle-class way of life….

….Instead of focusing solely on bargaining with employers, Hillman pioneered another strategy: social unionism. In that model, his union pooled members’ dues to create businesses that would benefit the members, at a price they could afford. The union would collect dues and build social-purpose businesses like housing, banks, medical centers, and insurance companies. Each entity would rent space from union-owned office buildings. Then the union used the rent money to pay the mortgage, building real assets and collateral. The union could then borrow additional capital to start more pro-worker ventures. It was a virtuous cycle. But Hillman’s vision wasn’t just about economic power – though economics was at its heart. It was about what economic power delivered: a middle-class way of life…..

Protecting Fundamental Labor Rights: Lessons from Canada for the United States

Source: Kris Warner, Center for Economic and Policy Research, August 2012

From the summary:
This paper examines the decline in unionization in the United States that began to occur in about 1960. While various explanations have been put forward to explain this – with many focusing on some form of structural changes to the economy or to the workforce, usually related to globalization or technological progress – this paper focuses on the role that employer opposition to unions has played, together with relatively weak labor law. In order to fully flesh out the experience of the United States, it looks to the experience of Canada as the country most similar to it.

The State of the Unions 2012: A Profile of Organized Labor in New York City, New York State and the United States

Source: Ruth Milkman, Laura Braslow, Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies and the Center for Urban Research, CUNY, September 2012

These are difficult times for organized labor in the United States. In addition to the challenges of an anemic economic recovery and persistently high unemployment, unions are confronting continuing attacks on public-sector collective bargaining rights and aggressive demands for concessions from both public- and private-sector employers. Against this background, the long-term decline of unionism has continued unabated. Although relative to the nation as a whole, organized labor remains strong in New York City and State, significant erosion has occurred there in recent years, as Figure 1a shows. Nearly one-fourth (22.3 percent) of all wage and salary workers residing in New York City were union members in 2011-12, compared to 22.9 percent a year earlier, and 24.6 percent two years earlier. This proportion was slightly higher in New York State (23.7 percent), which ranks first in union density among the nation’s fifty states, and whose unionization rate is more than double the U.S. average of 11.7 percent. In absolute terms, New York State had more union members — almost 1.9 million — than any state except California, which has a far larger population. In 2011-12, there were about 735,000 union members in the five boroughs of New York City, representing almost two out of every five union members in the state. At the national and state level, and to an even greater extent in New York City, losses in union membership have been disproportionately concentrated in the private sector over the past decade, as Figure 1b shows. The Great Recession that began in late 2007 accelerated the long-term decline in private- sector unionization in the City (see page 5). In the public sector, by contrast, union density has been relatively stable, and has actually increased slightly in New York City recently (see Figure 1c), although ongoing budget cuts and, in other parts of the country, direct attacks on collective bargaining rights for public-sector workers may change that in the future.