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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.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 4797.

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Date of creation: Jul 1994
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Publication status: published as Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol.52, no.4 (July 1999): 510-527.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4797
Note: LS
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  1. Colin Lawrence & Robert Z. Lawrence, 1985. "Manufacturing Wage Dispersion: An End Game Interpretation," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 16(1), pages 47-116.
  2. Steve J. Davis & John Haltiwanger, 1991. "Gross job creation, gross job destruction and employment reallocation," Working Paper Series, Macroeconomic Issues 91-5, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  3. John H. Pencavel, 1982. "The Trade-Off between Wages and Employment in Trade Union Objectives," NBER Working Papers 0870, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Peracchi, Franco & Welch, Finis, 1995. "How representative are matched cross-sections? Evidence from the Current Population Survey," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 68(1), pages 153-179, July.
  5. Ruback, Richard S & Zimmerman, Martin B, 1984. "Unionization and Profitability: Evidence from the Capital Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 92(6), pages 1134-57, December.
  6. Kuhn, Peter, 1986. "Wages, Effort, and Incentive Compatibility in Life-Cycle Employment Contracts," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 4(1), pages 28-49, January.
  7. Barry T. Hirsch & Robert A. Connolly, 1987. "Do unions capture monopoly profits?," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 41(1), pages 118-136, October.
  8. Connolly, Robert A & Hirsch, Barry T & Hirschey, Mark, 1986. "Union Rent Seeking, Intangible Capital, and Market Value of the Firm," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 68(4), pages 567-77, November.
  9. Richard B. Freeman & Edward P. Lazear, 1994. "An Economic Analysis of Works Councils," NBER Working Papers 4918, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Domowitz, Ian & Hubbard, R Glenn & Petersen, Bruce C, 1986. "The Intertemporal Stability of the Concentration-Margins Relationship," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 35(1), pages 13-34, September.
  11. Michael A. Salinger, 1984. "Tobin's q, Unionization, and the Concentration-Profits Relationship," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 15(2), pages 159-170, Summer.
  12. Karier, Thomas M, 1985. "Unions and Monopoly Profits," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 67(1), pages 34-42, February.
  13. Clark, Kim B, 1984. "Unionization and Firm Performance: The Impact on Profits, Growth, and Productivity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(5), pages 893-919, December.
  14. Macpherson, D.A. & Dunne, T., 1992. "Unionism and Gross Employment Flows," Working Papers 1992_10_5, Department of Economics, Florida State University.
  15. Kleiner, Morris M., 1984. "Public policy implications of financial information requirements under the national labor relations act," Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 253-257.
  16. Richard B. Freeman, 1983. "Unionism, Price-Cost Margins, and the Return to Capital," NBER Working Papers 1164, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Voos, Paula B & Mishel, Lawrence R, 1986. "The Union Impact on Profits: Evidence from Industry Price-Cost Margin Data," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 4(1), pages 105-33, January.
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