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The Union Membership Wage-Premium Puzzle: Is There a Free Rider Problem?

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  • Alison L. Booth
  • Mark L. Bryan

Abstract

Economists have long suggested that labor unions suffer a free rider problem. The argument is that, since union-set wages are available to all workers covered by unions irrespective of their union status, and union membership entails costs, workers will only join if they are coerced or are offered non-wage goods that they value above membership costs. Yet U.S. and British empirical research has found a substantial union membership wage premium among private-sector union-covered workers, implying that there is no free rider problem. The authors of this study hypothesize that these findings arise due to selectivity problems associated with identifying the union membership effect. Their analysis, which uses rich data from a new linked employer-employee survey for Britain and exploits the within-establishment variation in wages as a function of individual union membership status, demonstrates that the apparent wage premium for members is illusory. Hence, a potential free rider problem remains.

Suggested Citation

  • Alison L. Booth & Mark L. Bryan, 2004. "The Union Membership Wage-Premium Puzzle: Is There a Free Rider Problem?," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 57(3), pages 402-421, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:ilrrev:v:57:y:2004:i:3:p:402-421
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Budd, John W & Na, In-Gang, 2000. "The Union Membership Wage Premium for Employees Covered by Collective Bargaining Agreements," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 18(4), pages 783-807, October.
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    5. Booth, Alison L & Chatterji, Monojit, 1995. "Union Membership and Wage Bargaining When Membership is Not Compulsory," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 105(429), pages 345-360, March.
    6. Robin Naylor, 1989. "Strikes, Free Riders, and Social Customs," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 104(4), pages 771-785.
    7. Metcalf, David & Hansen, Kirstine & Charlwood, Andy, 2000. "Unions and the sword of justice: unions and pay systems, pay inequality, pay discrimination and low pay," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 20195, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Koevoets, Wim, 2007. "Union wage premiums in Great Britain: Coverage or membership?," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(1), pages 53-71, January.
    2. Walsh, Frank & Strobl, Eric, 2009. "Recent Trends in Trade Union Membership in Ireland," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 40(1), pages 117-138.
    3. Mathieu Bunel & Gilles Raveaud, 2012. "Union Membership does not pay: Evidence from recent French Micro Data," Economics Working Paper Archive (University of Rennes 1 & University of Caen) 201232, Center for Research in Economics and Management (CREM), University of Rennes 1, University of Caen and CNRS.
    4. Lixin Cai & C. Jeffrey Waddoups, 2011. "Union Wage Effects in Australia: Evidence from Panel Data," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 49(Supplemen), pages 279-305, July.
    5. Goerke, Laszlo & Pannenberg, Markus, 2011. "Trade union membership and dismissals," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(6), pages 810-821.
    6. David Blanchflower & Alex Bryson, 2004. "The Union Wage Premium in the US and the UK," CEP Discussion Papers dp0612, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    7. David G. Blanchflower & Alex Bryson, 2010. "The Wage Impact of Trade Unions in the UK Public and Private Sectors," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 77(305), pages 92-109, January.
    8. Veliziotis, Michail, 2010. "Unionization and sickness absence from work in the UK," ISER Working Paper Series 2010-15, Institute for Social and Economic Research.
    9. Alex Bryson & Lorenzo Cappellari & Claudio Lucifora, 2010. "Why So Unhappy? The Effects of Unionization on Job Satisfaction," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 72(3), pages 357-380, June.
    10. Gesine Stephan & Knut Gerlach, 2005. "Wage settlements and wage setting: results from a multi-level model," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 37(20), pages 2297-2306.
    11. John W. Budd & Karen Mumford, 2004. "Trade Unions and Family-Friendly Policies in Britain," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 57(2), pages 204-222, January.
    12. René Böheim & Martina Zweimüller, 2013. "The Employment of Temporary Agency Workers in the UK : For or Against the Trade Unions?," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 80(317), pages 65-95, January.
    13. Manquilef-Bächler, Alejandra A. & Arulampalam, Wiji & Smith, Jennifer C., 2009. "Differences in Decline: Quantile Regression Analysis of Union Wage Differentials in the United Kingdom, 1991-2003," IZA Discussion Papers 4138, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    14. C Green & J S Heywood, 2010. "Unions, Dissatisfied Workers and Sorting," Working Papers 615292, Lancaster University Management School, Economics Department.
    15. Stephan, Gesine & Gerlach, Knut, 2004. "Collective contracts, wages and wage dispersion in a multi-level model," IAB Discussion Paper 200406, Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung (IAB), Nürnberg [Institute for Employment Research, Nuremberg, Germany].
    16. Hynninen, Sanna-Mari, 2009. "Is there a wage curve for the highly educated?," ISER Working Paper Series 2009-17, Institute for Social and Economic Research.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J51 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining - - - Trade Unions: Objectives, Structure, and Effects

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