CHAPTER 10. “Union gives strength.” -Aesop. Introduction. Unions maximize the well-being of their members. Unions can flourish only when firms earn above-normal profits.
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“Union gives strength.”
Unions maximize the well-being of their members.
Unions can flourish only when firms earn above-normal profits.
Unions typically bargain with firms over all aspects of the employment contract, including wages, non-wage compensation, grievance procedures, and seniority rules.
Union membership as a share of total employment in the private sector increased between 1930 and 1960 (from 8% to 25%) and then began a steady decline (to 6.6% by 2012).
Public-sector unionization increased dramatically during the 1970s, and membership has remained above 35% since.
Union representation or “coverage” is generally 1-2 % higher than union membership.
Unionization in the United States has declined more rapidly than in other nations.
Differences in unionization across countries arise from variations in their degree of political and economic effectiveness.
Employers frequently used “yellow dog contracts.”
Yellow dog contracts stipulated that the worker would not join a union.
A Brief History of Unions
Under President Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, the legal environment governing the relationship between unions and employers changed.
Four major public laws:
The Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932.
The National Labor Relations Act of 1935.
The Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947.
The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959.
AFL-CIO at the top of a “pyramid.”
Local union or craft union.
Each tier plays different role in collective bargaining.
Organizational structure varies across unions.
Union dues on members average about one percent of each worker’s annual income.
A worker joins a union if the union offers a compensation and employment combination that provides more utility, net of union dues, than the combination offered by a nonunion employer.
Higher union-negotiated wages increase production costs, so employment will decline.
If a firm’s demand curve for labor is wage- inelastic, the employment reduction associated with a higher wage is small.
Slope = -wU
Slope = -w*
The initial budget line is given by AT, and the worker maximizes utility at point P by working h* hours. The proposed union wage increase (from w* to wU) rotates the budget line to BT. If the employer reduces hours of work to h0, the worker is worse off (utility falls from U to U0units). If the employer cuts back hours only to h1, the worker is better off (utility rises from U to U1).
The demand for union jobs depends on the size of the expected wage increase, the amount of the expected employment loss, and the costs of union membership.
The supply of union jobs depends on the ability of union leaders to organize a workforce, the legal environment affecting union activities, the resistance of management, and whether a firm is making excess profits.
Deregulation of industry.
Labor-saving technological change.
Globalization of labor-intensive production.
Manufacturing jobs are less prevalent.
Production has shifted to right-to-work states.
Marked increase in the labor force participation rate of women.
Greater opposition by firms to campaigns supporting union representation elections.
The union is the sole supplier of labor to the firm.
The union and the firm negotiate the wage, and the firm hires the optimal amount of labor, given that wage.
Employment is lower under (monopoly) unionization than in a competitive environment.
Union members are better (worse) off when the labor demand curve is less (more) wage elastic.
A monopoly union maximizes the collective utility of its members by choosing the point on the firm’s labor demand curve, D, that is tangent to the union’s indifference curve. The union and the firm negotiate a wage of wM(higher than the competitive wage w*) and the employer reduces employment to EM(lower than the competitive level E*). If the demand curve is relatively wage-inelastic (as in D), the union can achieve a higher wage with greater employment, than in the more wage-elastic case (D), and its members attain higher utility.
In the absence of unions, the competitive wage is w* and total income is given by the sum of the areas ABCD and ABCD. Unions increase the wage in sector 1 to wU. The displaced workers move to sector 2, lowering the nonunion wage to wN. Total income is now given by the sum of areas AEGD and AFGD. The misallocation of labor reduces total income by the area of the triangle EBF.
Unions reduce the total value of labor’s contribution to national income.
One estimate of the loss in national income is approximately 0.11 percent, a relatively small cost.
Compared with the monopoly-union outcome, the firm and the union could negotiate a deal that makes at least one of them better off without making the other one worse off.
The efficient contract curve lies to the right of the labor demand curve.
Efficient contracts imply that unions and employers bargain over wages and employment.
At the competitive wage w*, the employer hires E* workers. A monopoly union moves the firm to point M, demanding a wage of wM. Both the union and the firm would be better off by moving to a point off the demand curve. At point R, the union is better off, and the firm is no worse off, than at point M. At point Q, the employer is better off, but the union is no worse off. If all bargaining opportunities between the two parties are exhausted, the union and firm will agree to a wage-employment combination somewhere on the contract curve PZ.
Featherbedding occurs when labor contracts require overstaffing.
Featherbedding practices are negotiated to “make work” for the extra staff.
If the contract curve is vertical, the deal struck between the union and the firm is strongly efficient because the unionized firm is hiring the competitive level of employment.
Under such a situation, the union captures some of the firm’s rents.
The terminology does not imply allocative efficiency, but under strongly efficient contracts firms hire the “right” amount of labor.
If the contract curve PZ is vertical, the firm hires the same number of workers that it would have hired in the absence of a union. The union and firm are then splitting a fixed-size pie as they move up and down the contract curve. At point P, the employer keeps all the rents; at point Z, the union gets all the rents. A contract on a vertical contract curve is called a strongly efficient contract.
Empirical studies have found that wage-employment outcomes in unionized firms do not lie on the labor demand curve, a finding which supports the efficient-bargaining model.
There is disagreement over whether the contract curve is vertical.
A strike occurs when the firm (union) has imperfect information about the union’s (firm’s) reservation utility (profit).
Because strikes are costly due to lost production time, they shrink the total surplus over which the parties are negotiating.
When both parties are well-informed about the costs and likely outcome of a strike, then it is irrational to strike.
The fact that “irrational” strikes occur is known as Hicks’ Paradox.
The firm makes the offer at point RF, keeping $75 and giving the union $25. The union wants point RU, getting $75 for its members and giving the firm $25. The parties do not come to an agreement and a strike occurs. The strike is costly, and the post-strike settlement occurs at point S; each party keeps $40. Both parties could have agreed to a pre-strike settlement at point R*, and both parties would have been better off.
Strikes can be optimal if workers are not well informed about the firm’s financial status.
Since the union’s members will experience lost wages during a strike, the union will reduce its demands as the duration of a strike lengthens.
A firm knows that the union will moderate its demands over time.
A firm also incurs costs (lost profits) during a strike, so it will chooses a strike duration that maximizes the present value of profits.
Unions moderate (decrease) their wage demands the longer a strike lasts, generating a downward-sloping union-resistance curve. The employer chooses the point on the union resistance curve that puts it on the lowest iso-profit curve (thus maximizing profits). This occurs at point P; the strike lasts tperiods, and the post-strike settlement wage is wt.
Strikes involving 1,000 or more workers have been steadily declining since 1977.
The fraction of total work time lost due to major strike activity was less than 0.005 percent in 2012.
Strikes are more frequent when real wages are growing slowly or during periods of high inflation and less frequent during periods of high unemployment.
On average, a strike reduces the value of shareholder’s wealth by about 3 percent.
• Strike duration is counter-cyclical.
Empirical Facts on Strike Activity
We cannot easily isolate the effect of unionization on wages, since we do not know what a unionized worker would earn in a comparable non-union job.
The union-nonunion wage differential (or “gap”) is the percentage difference between the average estimated union wage and the average estimated non-union wage:
Union-nonunion wage gap = D = (ŵU–ŵN) / ŵN
The union-nonunion wage gap has, since the 1970s, ranged between 15 and 20 percent. In 2007, the average estimated union-nonunion wage gap was about 16 percent.
The union-nonunion wage gap overestimates the potential gain from joining a union, because a typical worker in a union job is more productive than a typical worker in a nonunion job in ways that are not easily observable.
The existence of a unionized sector has two opposing effects on wages in the nonunion sector.
The threat effect: nonunion firms will offer a higher wage to reduce the incentive of nonunion workers to unionize. The threat effect lowers the observed union-nonunion wage differential.
The spillover effect: workers who are unemployed in the union sector enter the nonunion sector to search for jobs, thus increasing the supply of labor and decreasing the wage in the nonunion sector. The spillover effect increases the observed union-nonunion wage differential.
The dispersion of wages in the unionized sector is 25 percent less than the dispersion of wages in the nonunionized sector.
Unionized firms offer a lower payoff to education than nonunionized firms.
Unions flatten the age-earnings and tenure-earnings profiles.
The benefits package received by union workers is generally worth more than the benefits received by nonunion workers.
The union-nonunion compensation differential is 2-3 percentage points higher than the union-nonunion wage differential.
Unions give collective and individual “voice” to workers through formal communications with management and representation at grievance hearings, as an alternative to voluntary or involuntary “exit” (A.O. Hirschman).
The “exit-voice” hypothesis implies a higher ratio of non-cash to cash compensation, lower worker turnover, higher job satisfaction, and higher productivity in unionized firms.
Turnover is lower in unionized firms and the ratio of noncash to cash compensation is higher. The evidence on job satisfaction and productivity is mixed. Profits or firm value generally decline in newly unionized firms.
Most studies report that the union-nonunion wage gap in the public sector is 5 to 10 percent.
There is some evidence that public-sector unions reduce productivity.
Public-sector unions often choose (or are required to accept) binding or final-offer arbitration as a way of resolving collective bargaining disputes.