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Vulnerable Seniors: Unions, Tenure and Wages Following Permanent Job Loss

  • Peter Kuhn
  • Arthur Sweetman

A well known finding in the literature on displaced workers is the apparent “portability” of tenure across firms: controlling for experience and other observable characteristics, workers with high levels of predisplacement tenure earn higher postdisplacement wages (e.g. Kletzer 1989). Using four data sets on displaced workers, we show that this finding is reversed for workers losing unionized jobs. Our finding cannot be explained by firm- or industry-specific human capital accumulation, deferred-pay policies, standard matching models, or by a correlation between tenure and re-entry rates into unionized jobs. We argue instead that it can reflect only two possible processes: negative selection of senior union workers, or a negative causal effect of unionism on workers’ alternative skills. An important implication of our findings is that, despite a much flatter predisplacement tenure-wage profile, displaced union workers’ wage losses increase with tenure at a comparable or higher rate to that of nonunion workers.

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Paper provided by McMaster University in its series Canadian International Labour Network Working Papers with number 20.

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Length: 36 pages
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Handle: RePEc:mcm:cilnwp:20
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  1. Orley Ashenfelter & James N. Brown, 1985. "Testing the Efficiency of Employment Contracts," Working Papers 573, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  2. Katharine G. Abraham & Henry S. Farber, 1986. "Job Duration, Seniority, and Earnings," NBER Working Papers 1819, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Kuhn, Peter, 1988. "A Nonuniform Pricing Model of Union Wages and Employment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(3), pages 473-508, June.
  4. David S. Evans & Linda S. Leighton, 1995. "Retrospective Bias in the Displaced Worker Surveys," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 30(2), pages 386-396.
  5. Kuhn, Peter & Robert, Jacques, 1989. "Seniority and Distribution in a Two-Worker Trade Union," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 104(3), pages 485-505, August.
  6. Daniel Parent, 1995. "Industry-Specific Capital and the Wage Profile: Evidence from the NLSY and the PSID," Working Papers 729, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  7. Ruhm, Christopher J, 1990. "Do Earnings Increase with Job Seniority?," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 72(1), pages 143-47, February.
  8. MaCurdy, Thomas E & Pencavel, John H, 1986. "Testing between Competing Models of Wage and Employment Determination in Unionized Markets," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(3), pages S3-S39, June.
  9. Freeman, Richard B, 1980. "The Exit-Voice Tradeoff in the Labor Market: Unionism, Job Tenure, Quits, and Separations," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 94(4), pages 643-73, June.
  10. Robert H. Topel, 1990. "Specific Capital, Mobility, and Wages: Wages Rise with Job Seniority," NBER Working Papers 3294, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Jones, Stephen R G & Kuhn, Peter, 1995. "Mandatory Notice and Unemployment," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(4), pages 599-622, October.
  12. Joseph G. Altonji & Nicolas Williams, 2005. "Do wages rise with job seniority? A reassessment," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 58(3), pages 370-397, April.
  13. Denise J. Doiron & W. Craig Riddell, 1994. "The Impact of Unionization on Male-Female Earnings Differences in Canada," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 29(2), pages 504-534.
  14. Addison, John T & Portugal, Pedro, 1989. "Job Displacement, Relative Wage Changes, and Duration of Unemployment," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 7(3), pages 281-302, July.
  15. George J. Borjas, 1979. "Job Satisfaction, Wages, and Unions," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 14(1), pages 21-40.
  16. Altonji, Joseph G & Shakotko, Robert A, 1987. "Do Wages Rise with Job Seniority?," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 54(3), pages 437-59, July.
  17. Pearce, James E, 1990. "Tenure, Unions, and the Relationship between Employer Size and Wages," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 8(2), pages 251-69, April.
  18. Card, David, 1996. "The Effect of Unions on the Structure of Wages: A Longitudinal Analysis," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(4), pages 957-79, July.
  19. Neal, Derek, 1995. "Industry-Specific Human Capital: Evidence from Displaced Workers," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(4), pages 653-77, October.
  20. Lemieux, Thomas, 1998. "Estimating the Effects of Unions on Wage Inequality in a Panel Data Model with Comparative Advantage and Nonrandom Selection," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 16(2), pages 261-91, April.
  21. Farber, Henry S, 1983. "The Determination of the Union Status of Workers," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 51(5), pages 1417-37, September.
  22. Kletzer, Lori Gladstein, 1989. "Returns to Seniority after Permanent Job Loss," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(3), pages 536-43, June.
  23. Crossley, T.F., 1998. "What Can We Learn from Displaced Worker Data about the Returns to Tenure?," Papers 346, Australian National University - Department of Economics.
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