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Unions and Establishment Performance: Evidence from the British Workplace Industrial/Employee Relations Surveys

  • Addison, John T.

    ()

    (University of South Carolina)

  • Belfield, Clive R.

    ()

    (Queens College, CUNY)

An interesting aspect of British research on unions based on the Workplace Industrial/ Employment Relations Surveys has been the apparent shift in union impact on establishment performance in the decade of the 1990s compared with the 1980s – and the recent scramble to explain the phenomenon. In this contribution, we chart these changes along the dimensions of financial performance, labor productivity, employment, quits, absenteeism, industrial relations climate, and plant closings. Using the most recent workplace survey, we also investigate the controversial notion that union influence is positive where unions are strong and is negative where unions are weak. This notion, encountered in recent research in Britain (and Germany), emphasizes the benefits of the collective voice of unions, arguing that this voice is only 'heard' when the union is strong or a credible agent. We examine this contention for a fuller array of definitions of union influence and workplace performance measures. Overall, our discussion reveals some evidence that is consistent with reduced bargaining power in the wake of anti-union reform measures and heightened product market competition. On the other hand, there is little support for the recherché notion that stronger unions have a beneficial impact, yet weaker ones do not.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 455.

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Length: 40 pages
Date of creation: Mar 2002
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: Phanindra V. Wunnava (ed.), The Changing Role of Unions: New Forms of Representation, Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, April 2004
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp455
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  1. Manning, Alan, 1993. "Pre-strike Ballots and Wage-Employment Bargaining," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 45(3), pages 422-39, July.
  2. Booth, Alison L & McCulloch, Andrew, 1999. "Redundancy Pay, Unions and Employment," Manchester School, University of Manchester, vol. 67(3), pages 346-66, June.
  3. Machin, Stephen J, 1991. "The Productivity Effects of Unionization and Firm Size in British Engineering Firms," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 58(232), pages 479-90, November.
  4. David G. Blanchflower, 1997. "Changes Over Time in Union Relative Wage Effects in Great Britain and the United States," NBER Working Papers 6100, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Hübler, Olaf & Jirjahn, Uwe, 2001. "Works Councils and Collective Bargaining in Germany: The Impact on Productivity and Wages," IZA Discussion Papers 322, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. Stephen Machin, 2000. "Union Decline in Britain," CEP Discussion Papers dp0455, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  7. Martin J. Conyon & Richard B. Freeman, 2001. "Shared Modes of Compensation and Firm Performance: UK Evidence," NBER Working Papers 8448, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Alex Bryson, 2002. "The Union Membership Wage Premium: An Analysis Using Propensity Score Matching," CEP Discussion Papers dp0530, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  9. Machin, Stephen & Stewart, Mark, 1996. "Trade Unions and Financial Performance," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 48(2), pages 213-41, April.
  10. Stewart, Mark B, 1995. "Union Wage Differentials in an Era of Declining Unionization," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 57(2), pages 143-66, May.
  11. McNabb, Robert & Whitfield, Keith, 1998. "The Impact of Financial Participation and Employee Involvement on Financial Performance," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 45(2), pages 171-87, May.
  12. Blanchflower, David G & Millward, Neil & Oswald, Andrew J, 1991. "Unionism and Employment Behaviour," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 101(407), pages 815-34, July.
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