Do unions promote members' electoral office holding? Evidence from correlates of state legislatures' occupational shares

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Abstract

Controversies over the promise and perils of union political influence have erupted around the United States. The author develops the first evidence on the degree to which labor unions develop members' political leadership in the broader community by studying the relationship between state legislators' occupations and the unionization rates of occupations across U.S. states. The fraction of legislators of a given occupation in a state increases with the occupation's rate of unionization in that state compared with the fraction of legislators of the same occupation in other states with lower unionization rates. This pattern shows up to varying degrees among the three public-sector and one private-sector occupations considered: K-12 teachers, police officers, firefighters, and construction workers. The pattern holds conditional on differences in observable state characteristics and when using state fixed effects. Although much research has described the role of unions in influencing economic outcomes and in politics through lobbying, campaign contributions, and voter mobilization, the author adds a new perspective on the role of unions in society. They promote elected political leadership by individuals from working- and middle-class jobs. Arguments over the social value of this role of unions are explored.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)467-486
Number of pages20
JournalIndustrial and Labor Relations Review
Volume66
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013

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Law enforcement
Personnel
Economics
Correlates
Legislatures
Unionization
Political leadership

Keywords

  • Construction
  • Elected officials
  • Firefighter
  • Labor union
  • Police
  • State legislature
  • Teacher
  • Trade union

Cite this

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abstract = "Controversies over the promise and perils of union political influence have erupted around the United States. The author develops the first evidence on the degree to which labor unions develop members' political leadership in the broader community by studying the relationship between state legislators' occupations and the unionization rates of occupations across U.S. states. The fraction of legislators of a given occupation in a state increases with the occupation's rate of unionization in that state compared with the fraction of legislators of the same occupation in other states with lower unionization rates. This pattern shows up to varying degrees among the three public-sector and one private-sector occupations considered: K-12 teachers, police officers, firefighters, and construction workers. The pattern holds conditional on differences in observable state characteristics and when using state fixed effects. Although much research has described the role of unions in influencing economic outcomes and in politics through lobbying, campaign contributions, and voter mobilization, the author adds a new perspective on the role of unions in society. They promote elected political leadership by individuals from working- and middle-class jobs. Arguments over the social value of this role of unions are explored.",
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