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Do Unions Make Enterprises Insolvent?


  • Richard B. Freeman
  • Morris M. Kleiner


This study investigates the impact of unionization and firm, business line, or establishment survival. A consistent empirical finding is that unions raise wages above those found in nonunion firms, and that in a competitive product market one would expect to find that unionized firms would go out of business more than nonunion firms. However, if unions engage in economic rent-sharing, then during periods of economic hardship unionized firms may be able to remain solvent by giving back some of these rents. In order to answer this question we analyze three data sets: a data set on the union status of solvent and insolvent enterprises and business lines from the Compustat files, a data set on the union status of workers who have lost their jobs due to permanent plant closures or business failures obtained by matching files from Current Population Survey, and a data set from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service on the outcomes of elections won by unions and on the outcomes of labor- management dispute cases. Overall, our results are consistent with the hypothesis that unions behave in an economically rational manner, pushing wages to the point where union firms may expand less rapidly than nonunion firms, but not to the point where the firm, plant, or business line closes down.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard B. Freeman & Morris M. Kleiner, 1994. "Do Unions Make Enterprises Insolvent?," NBER Working Papers 4797, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4797
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Stijn Baert & Eddy Omey, 2015. "Hiring Discrimination Against Pro-union Applicants: The Role of Union Density and Firm Size," De Economist, Springer, vol. 163(3), pages 263-280, September.
    2. Bridgman, Benjamin, 2015. "Competition, work rules and productivity," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 52(C), pages 136-149.
    3. Sojourner, Aaron J. & Yang, Jooyoung, 2015. "Effects of Unionization on Workplace-Safety Enforcement: Regression-Discontinuity Evidence," IZA Discussion Papers 9610, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    4. Michael Kremer & Benjamin A. Olken, 2009. "A Biological Model of Unions," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 1(2), pages 150-175, April.
    5. Morris M. Kleiner & Alan B. Krueger, 2010. "The Prevalence and Effects of Occupational Licensing," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 48(4), pages 676-687, December.
    6. Gabriel Burdin, 2012. "Does workers’ control affect firm survival? Evidence from Uruguay," Department of Economics University of Siena 641, Department of Economics, University of Siena.
    7. Nicolae Stef, 2017. "Bankruptcy and the difficulty of firing," EconomiX Working Papers 2017-26, University of Paris Nanterre, EconomiX.
    8. Burdín, Gabriel, 2013. "Are Worker-Managed Firms Really More Likely to Fail?," IZA Discussion Papers 7412, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    9. Aaron J. Sojourner & Robert J. Town & David C. Grabowski & Michelle M. Chen, 2012. "Impacts of Unionization on Employment, Product Quality and Productivity: Regression Discontinuity Evidence From Nursing Homes," NBER Working Papers 17733, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Edgar Preugschat, 2009. "Unionization Patterns and Firm Reallocation," 2009 Meeting Papers 1114, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    11. Addison, John T. & Heywood, John S. & Wei, Xiangdong, 2001. "Unions and Plant Closings in Britain: New Evidence from the 1990/98 WERS," IZA Discussion Papers 352, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    12. John DiNardo & David S. Lee, 2002. "The Impact of Unionization on Establishment Closure: A Regression Discontinuity Analysis of Representation Elections," NBER Working Papers 8993, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. David G. Blanchflower & Alex Bryson, 2003. "What Effect do Unions Have on Wages Now and Would 'What Do Unions Do' Be Surprised?," NBER Working Papers 9973, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Steinbacher, Matej & Steinbacher, Matjaz & Steinbacher, Mitja, 2009. "To Work or Not? Simulating Inspection Game with Labor Unions," MPRA Paper 13565, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    15. Bruno De Borger & Amihai Glazer, 2015. "Inducing political action by workers," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 81(4), pages 1117-1144, April.
    16. Barry T. Hirsch & Edward J. Schumacher, 2001. "Private Sector Union Density and the Wage Premium: Past, Present, and Future ," Journal of Labor Research, Transaction Publishers, vol. 22(3), pages 487-518, July.

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