Twentieth Century Labor Policy and Union Decline: A Time Series Analysis Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_projects/b2773x318

2016

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  • Union density in the United States has declined to historic lows over the past four decades. In 1954, nearly 35 percent of workers were union members while only 11 percent of workers were members of unions in 2015. Simultaneously, economic inequality widened, with one-third to one-fifth of this increase attributed to declining private sector unionization. Three federal laws largely govern union and collective bargaining rights: The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (Wagner), the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 (Taft-Hartley), and the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (Landrum-Griffin). This paper seeks to identify the link between these law’s policy structures and the decline in union density while examining interactions with political variables and controlling for relevant economic factors. Using data spanning 1897-2005, results of four OLS time series estimator models indicate these policies did not impact union density growth alone; rather, their effect was conditional on partisan control of the presidency. Policy and politics collided to produce lower yearly growth in union density when Republicans held the presidency during the Taft-Hartley period compared to Democrats during the Wagner period. Additionally, greater Republican Party control of the US Senate also negatively impacted yearly union density growth. It follows that unions should focus their efforts to achieve electoral success nationally and in places like the Rustbelt that have recently moved to curb union rights. More broadly, union should continue to build social movements to pass labor policy reforms that impact all workers at the state and local level.
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