Union Success in Representation Elections: Why Does Unit Size Matter?

Author
Keywords
Abstract

I establish four facts regarding the pattern of NLRB supervised representation
election activity over the past 45 years: 1) the quantity of election activity has fallen
sharply and discontinuously since the mid-70’s after increasing between the mid-1950’s
and the mid-1970’s; 2) union success in elections held has declined less sharply, though
continuously, over the entire period; 3) it has always been the case that unions have been
less likely to win NLRB-supervised representation elections in large units than in small
units; and 4) the size-gap in union success-rates has widened substantially over the last forty
years. I develop a simple optimizing model of the union decision to hold a representation
election that can account for the first three facts. I provide a pair of competing explanations
for the fourth fact: one based on differential behavior by employers of different sizes and one
purely statistical. I then develop and estimate three empirical models of election outcomes
using data on NLRB elections over the 1952-98 time period in order to determine whether
the simple statistical model can account for the size pattern of union win rates over time.
I conclude that systematic union selection of targets for organization combined with the
purely statistical factors can largely account for the observed patterns.

Year of Publication
1999
Number
420
Date Published
06/1999
Publication Language
eng
Citation Key
Industrial and Labor Relations Review, January 2001, pp. 329-348
URL
Working Papers