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(What) do unions maximise? Evidence from survey data


  • Peter G. Gahan


Highly formalised models of union behaviour have been developed and are widely used within neoclassical economics. This approach is justified by the argument that most goals pursued by unions can be reduced to a wage (or wage-equivalent)--employment trade-off. However, the strong assumptions made about union goals and preferences, how these are determined and the range of issues over which a union will seek to bargain with a firm are not supported by extensive empirical evidence. This paper explores these issues through a survey of union leaders to ascertain the range of union goals and their preferences, and the types of issues over which unions bargain with employers. The results of the survey present convincing evidence that standard neoclassical models do not adequately capture union bargaining behaviour, or union goals and preferences. The findings presented here also throw open, but do not resolve, the question of whether unions are 'rational maximisers'. The most interesting result--not widely found within the economics or industrial relations literature--concerns the nature of union bargaining preferences. Union bargaining over employment appears to be asymmetric around current levels of employment, in that unions appear to care more about the employment implications of their bargaining strategies when they are likely to result in employment decreases. Copyright 2002, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Peter G. Gahan, 2002. "(What) do unions maximise? Evidence from survey data," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 26(3), pages 279-297, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:cambje:v:26:y:2002:i:3:p:279-297

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    Cited by:

    1. Ivlevs, Artjoms & Veliziotis, Michail, 2015. "What Do Unions Do in Times of Economic Crisis? Evidence from Central and Eastern Europe," IZA Discussion Papers 9466, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Minas Vlassis & Nick Drydakis, 2012. "Wage discrimination and antidiscrimination policy in unionized industries," Journal of Economics, Springer, vol. 105(1), pages 45-62, January.
    3. Zanetti, Francesco, 2007. "A non-Walrasian labor market in a monetary model of the business cycle," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 31(7), pages 2413-2437, July.
    4. Bhattacharyya, Chandril & Gupta, Manash Ranjan, 2014. "Unionised labour market, environment and endogenous growth," MPRA Paper 55416, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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