What Do Unions Do?

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Overview

One of the best-known and most-quoted books ever written on labor unions is What Do Unions Do? by Richard Freeman and James Medoff. Published in 1984, the book proved to be a landmark because it provided the most comprehensive and statistically sophisticated empirical portrait of the economic and socio-political effects of unions, and a provocative conclusion that unions are on balance beneficial for the economy and society.

The present volume represents a twentieth-anniversary retrospective and evaluation of What Do Unions Do? The objectives are threefold: to evaluate and critique the theory, evidence, and conclusions of Freeman and Medoff; to provide a comprehensive update of the theoretical and empirical literature on unions since the publication of their book; and to offer a balanced assessment and critique of the effects of unions on the economy and society. Toward this end, internationally recognized representatives of labor and management cover the gamut of subjects related to unions.

Topics covered include the economic theory of unions; the history of economic thought on unions; the effect of unions on wages, benefits, capital investment, productivity, income inequality, dispute resolution, and job satisfaction; the performance of unions in an international perspective; the reasons for the decline of unions; and the future of unions. The volume concludes with a chapter by Richard Freeman in which he assesses the arguments and evidence presented in the other chapters and presents his evaluation of how What Do Unions Do? stands up in the light of twenty years of additional experience and research. This highly readable volume is a state-of-the-art survey by internationally recognized experts on the effects and future of labor unions. It will be the benchmark for years to come.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Upon its publication in 1984, Richard Freeman and James Medoff's widely acclaimed What Do Unions Do? rewrote economists' understanding of the impact of labor unions. The book under review, originally published as a six-part symposium in the Journal of Labor Research, reassesses Freeman and Medoff's book and the title question in light of two decades of additional data, experience, and perspective. The contributors are among the field's most respected and well-published scholars. Their 20 chapters approach the issue from a judicious, complementary combination of theoretical, empirical, institutional, international, and historical angles grappling with the impact of unions on wages, inequality, employee benefits, productivity, profitability, human resource management policies, conflict resolution, employee voice, job satisfaction, job turnover, macroeconomic performance, and politics. Highlights include Barry Hirsch's chapter, "What Do Unions Do for Economic Performance?" It concludes that Freeman and Medoff's provocative thesis that unions substantially increase productivity "has not held up well." Other highlights are Bruce Kaufman's chapter giving an overall assessment and commentary on the original volume and Richard Freeman's closing remarks--which concede little ground to critics. This encyclopedic, balanced volume is a must for any collection on unions, labor studies, or labor economics. Esssential."

—Choice

"In 1984, Harvard professors Richard Freeman and James Medoff published a book entitled What Do Unions Do?... The book was greatly discussed back in the mid-1980s and it remains one of the most frequently cited works in the labor law and economics... The United States is overdue for a rethinking of its authoritarian labor relations law. When that time comes, Perspective will have a role to play in shaping the debate."

—George C. Leef Regulation Winter, 2008

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781412805940
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/1/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 664
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.46 (d)

Meet the Author

James T. Bennett is professor of economics at George Mason University. He is the founder and editor of the Journal of Labor Research and a prolific author.

Bruce E. Kaufman is professor of economics and senior associate of the W.T. Beebe Institute of Personnel and Employment Relations at Georgia State University. His most recent books are The Global Evolution of Industrial Relations (2004) and Theoretical Perspectives on Work and the Employment Relationship (2004).

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