Union members: happier after all?

In a new paper, PSI emeritus fellow Michael White and Alex Bryson of UCL take a new look at an apparently well-established idea: that union members are less happy at work than non-union members. The paper argues that this may not be true after all.

The authors note that a negative correlation between union membership and job satisfaction, something that has always seemed puzzling since, as they note, ‘union efforts to improve members’ wages and working environment should, if anything, lead to an improvement in employee job satisfaction’. However, perhaps the causation is the other way around. Union membership is costly. Those who are most dissatisfied at work and those experiencing poor working conditions may be more likely to pay that price in order to improve the workplace environment. Moreover, by raising problems in the workplace, unions may encourage feelings of dissatisfaction.

Through a panel analysis (1991–2008) of both overall job satisfaction (OJS) and four facet satisfaction measures - and by removing downward biases on job satisfaction - the authors argue that the effects of union coverage on job satisfaction are more positive than hitherto believed. They add that ‘union coverage actually has a positive and statistically significant effect on both pay satisfaction and hours satisfaction, two facets of satisfaction relating directly to unions’ negotiating role. We find our results hold for covered union non-members as well as members, a finding that is consistent with non-members’ ability to free-ride on non-excludable union goods.’

The full paper is available here.