Friday, July 15, 2011
This paper presents the first cross-national analysis of the relationship between labor law and union membership rates. Leftist political parties are believed to have a positive impact on union density [i.e., the proportion of workers who are members of a union] and the mechanism linking them, prounion labor law, is widely thought to bolster union membership fortunes. Contrary to these beliefs, this paper generates theory and presents evidence that union-favoring collective-bargaining legislation has a negative effect on union density. Nevertheless, unions are not irrational: the same legislation has strong positive and significant effects on union coverage [i.e., the proportion of workers who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement]. Further theory and evidence test the notion that labor legislation has a positive effect on the rate of membership in employer associations: labor law may be more effective at organizing employers than employees. The paper also shows that patterns of both union power (density and coverage) and labor law cluster around the usual suspects: Anglo-American, Continental, and Nordic countries. These patterns also roughly correspond to ``legal origin'' typologies, but in ways that undermine those authors' key claims. The conclusion considers questions of policy and the trade-offs between the two measures of union strength.
This is a nuanced article worth reading. The author points out, for example, that because American labor law is so different from the labor law in most of the studied countries, the results do not necessarily predict the effect that EFCA would have had. So what would enhance union density? "Institutional supports such as union-administered unemployment insurance or more centralized wage coordination...".