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Monday, September 3, 2012

Research on Labor Unions

On Labor Day, it is appropriate to look at some recent research on unions.  Though Hurricane Isaac forced the cancellation of the annual conference of the American Political Science Association, many papers prepared for that conference are available online.  Two are particularly relevant here.

Sarah F. Anzia and Terry M. Moe, "Public Sector Unions and the Costs of Government."  You may find the full text here and the abstract below:
As recent political battles in Wisconsin, Ohio, and a number of other states attest, public sector unions are among the most active interest groups in American politics. They are also different from other interest groups in two key respects: they engage in collective bargaining, and are thus in a position to shape the organization of government in ways that other groups are not, and their members are the government’s own employees — its bureaucrats — who not only influence government from the inside through their official roles, but also from the outside through their unions. For all of these reasons, public sector unions are eminently worthy of scholarly attention, and yet political scientists have almost never studied them. This paper is an attempt to make some headway. Our focus is on how unions and collective bargaining in the public sector affect the costs of government. We present three separate studies, using different datasets from different historical periods, and we examine a range of cost-related outcomes: wages and salaries, health benefits, employment levels, and pension liabilities. In all three studies, our findings show that strong unions and collective bargaining do tend to increase the costs of government, and the impacts are both substantively and statistically significant. In presenting these findings, we hope to encourage other scholars to view public sector unions as important subjects of analysis.
"Turning Out Teachers: Collective Bargaining Laws and Citizens’ Political Engagement." You may find the full text here and the abstract below:
The decision to become involved in politics through voting and other participatory activities is among the most studied topics in political science. A large literature focuses on the effects of resources, mobilization efforts, and registration/election laws on patterns of political participation. In comparison, far fewer studies investigate the effects of governmental policy on citizens’ subsequent political engagement by asking the question: Do policies make citizens? We examine the case of statewide public sector collective bargaining laws and consider whether variation in these policies influence levels of political participation among public school teachers. Utilizing a difference-in-differences estimation strategy that exploits variation in the time at which these bargaining laws were adopted, we find that teachers consistently report higher levels of political participation in the years immediately following the adoption of mandatory collective bargaining in their state. These findings help explain how teachers, a group that was at one time largely apathetic toward electoral politics, evolved into one of the most active and organized political constituencies in the United States. Given the recent flurry of state policymaking activity aimed at restricting or eliminating collective bargaining rights for public employees, these findings further underscore the important effects that policy decisions can have on citizens’ political engagement.