Unionization and Firm Performance: The Impact on Profits, Growth and Productivity

Kim B. Clark

NBER Working Paper No. 990
Issued in September 1982
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies

This paper examines the impact of unionization on profit- ability, growth and productivity using time series data on over 900 product line businesses in the North American manufacturing sector (predominantly U.S.). The first section of the paper develops a simple theoretical framework for studying the effect of the union on firm performance. A key result of this analysis is that information about union wage and productivity effects is not sufficient to permit prediction of the sign (or magnitude) of consequent changes in the rate of return on capital; one must know the parameters of production and demand. Expanding the model to allow for the effects of market structure and alternative bargaining regimes establishes the need to examine several indicators of firm performance in assessing the impact of the union. The empirical analysis reveals sizeable negative union effects on profitability, but growth, productivity and the capital-labor ratio appear to be little affected by unionization in this data. The data are thus consistent with a model of union-firm interaction in which collective bargaining affects the distribution of profits, but leaves real magnitudes unchanged. The evidence suggests, however, that unionization may have longer term implications for efficiency since the impact on profitability appears to fall most heavily on firms with relatively little market power.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w0990

Published: Clark, Kim B. "Unionization and Firm Performance: The Impact on Profits, Growth and Productivity." American Economic Review, Vol. 74, No. 5, (December 1984), pp. 893-919.

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