Determinants of total bargaining outcomes in the open-shop environment

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Today, labor union membership has dropped to its lowest level in over 40 years. Attempts to boost aggregate union membership through large scale organizing drives have largely failed. This has placed a great deal of pressure on unions to provide services to existing union members. This would seem to be especially true for labor unions operating in right-to-work states where union members can simply quit the union if they are not satisfied with the union's efforts. Accordingly, this project sought to explain the extent to which local unions have been successful in achieving desirable bargaining outcomes for their members through the exercise of bargaining power.

The purpose of this project was to assess the relationship between sources of plant-level bargaining power and changes in collective bargaining outcomes in an open-shop environment. Sources of power were grouped into those over which the union had relatively greater control (strikes, union strength, and decertification attempts) and those over the employer had relatively greater control (bargaining unit employment, plant closure communications, and degree of labor intensity).

A three-page survey questionnaire was employed to collect plant-level data from Virginia and Iowa representing sources of bargaining power relevant to specific time periods to help identify whether sources of bargaining power were more or less effective in securing bargaining outcomes favorable to the local union during episodes of union militancy.

Results demonstrate that strike incidence and union strength, two consistent traditional predictors of various bargaining outcomes were ineffective as sources of union bargaining power at least for these samples. Strike duration did lead to greater bargaining outcomes for union members in Iowa. Decertification activity was so low in these samples that meaningful relationships were not possible. Changes in bargaining unit employment, over which the employer has relatively greater influence were directly related to bargaining outcomes in the Iowa sample of plants which did not experience strikes. In Virginia, the threat of a plant closure by an employer during an impasse lead to lower bargaining outcomes for union members as predicted. The degree of labor intensity was unrelated to changes in bargaining outcomes for either state.

When considering all significant relationships (supportive and nonsupportive), strikes demonstrated a particularly disruptive influence. Research results suggested that future research should consider industrial, union affiliation, and regional differences in plant level studies.