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What Do Unions Do?: The 2004 M-Brane Stringtwister Edition

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  • Richard B. Freeman

Abstract

The Journal of Labor Research 20th anniversary symposium review of What Do Unions Do? offers a unique opportunity to examine how the claims made in the book have fared in ensuing research and to ponder what parts of the book I would change if I could. This paper responds to the 18 critical essays in the journal. It recognizes three major errors of omission: failure to take account of unionism outside the US; failure to analyze public sector unionism; and failure to analyze the effects of unionism on economic growth; and the problem of determining the "optimal level of unionism" on the basis of estimates of what unions do. Ensuing research has found that What Do Unions Do? correctly identified union effects on turnover, fringe benefits, earnings inequality, political action, profits, managerial flexibility and human resource management, and that wage effects vary widely. Estimates of the union effect on productivity tend to be positive but modest, ruling out negative effects on average, but not conclusively establishing positive effects. Critical comments from some of the symposium panelists notwithstanding, I believe that the bulk of the evidence supports the What Do Unions Do? claim that management opposition has been a major factor in the decline in union density in the US.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard B. Freeman, 2005. "What Do Unions Do?: The 2004 M-Brane Stringtwister Edition," NBER Working Papers 11410, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11410
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Freeman, Richard B. & Weitzman, Martin L., 1987. "Bonuses and employment in Japan," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 1(2), pages 168-194, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Patrice Laroche & Heidi Wechtler, 2011. "The Effects of Labor Unions on Workplace Performance: New Evidence from France," Journal of Labor Research, Springer, vol. 32(2), pages 157-180, June.
    2. repec:ilo:ilowps:433276 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Song, Yang & Yang, Jidong & Yang, Qijing, 2016. "Do firms' political connections depress the union wage effect? Evidence from China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 183-198.
    4. Vassilis Monastiriotis, 2007. "Union Retreat and Regional Economic Performance: The UK Experience," Regional Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 41(2), pages 143-156.
    5. Elisabetta Magnani & David Prentice, 2010. "Outsourcing And Unionization: A Tale Of Misallocated (Resistance) Resources," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 48(2), pages 460-482, April.
    6. Addison, John T. & Bailey, Ralph & Siebert, W. Stanley, 2009. "Wage Dispersion in a Partially Unionized Labor Force," IZA Discussion Papers 4202, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    7. Dögüs, Ilhan, 2017. "Rising wage dispersion between white-collar and blue-collar workers and market concentration: The case of the USA, 1966-2011," Discussion Papers 62, University of Hamburg, Centre for Economic and Sociological Studies (CESS/ZÖSS).
    8. Laroche, Patrice, 2020. "Unions, Collective Bargaining and Firm Performance," GLO Discussion Paper Series 728, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    9. John Budd & Wei Chi & Yijiang Wang & Qianyun Xie, 2014. "What Do Unions in China Do? Provincial-Level Evidence on Wages, Employment, Productivity, and Economic Output," Journal of Labor Research, Springer, vol. 35(2), pages 185-204, June.
    10. Ying Ge, 2014. "Do Chinese Unions Have “Real” Effects On Employee Compensation?," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 32(1), pages 187-202, January.
    11. Powers Elizabeth T & Powers Nicholas J, 2010. "Causes of Caregiver Turnover and the Potential Effectiveness of Wage Subsidies for Solving the Long-Term Care Workforce 'Crisis'," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 10(1), pages 1-30, January.
    12. Fang, Tony & Ge, Ying, 2013. "Chinese Unions and Enterprises Performance," IZA Discussion Papers 7870, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    13. Chiara BROCCOLINI & Marco LILLA & Stefano STAFFOLANI, 2010. "A Search Model in a Segmented Labour Market: the Odd Role of Unions," Working Papers 349, Universita' Politecnica delle Marche (I), Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche e Sociali.
    14. Dong, Zhiqiang & Luo, Zijun & Wei, Xiahai, 2016. "Social insurance with Chinese characteristics: The role of communist party in private firms," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 37(C), pages 40-51.
    15. Blanchflower, David G., 2006. "A Cross-Country Study of Union Membership," IZA Discussion Papers 2016, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    16. Chih‐Hai Yang & Meng‐Wen Tsou, 2018. "Labour Unions and Firm Productivity: Evidence from China," Manchester School, University of Manchester, vol. 86(6), pages 699-721, December.
    17. Balsmeier, Benjamin, 2017. "Unions, collective relations laws and R&D investment in emerging and developing countries," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 292-304.

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