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The Research on the Union Role in Improving Workplace Performance

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Unions improve workers’ economic conditions, helping create a stable and skilled workforce.

• Multiple studies have found that unionization aids in employee retention, either directly or through the better compensation and benefits that unions offer.1
• Replacing a teacher can cost as much as $12,600.2 In healthcare, more than 5 percent of the costs of operating a hospital or clinic can come from employee turnover.3 Unions reduce the time, resources and costs associated with em- ployee recruitment and development by lowering turnover and improving retention.4, 5,6

• Lower turnover creates more opportunity for effective training, leads to the benefits associated with building ad- ditional skills, and is directly related to higher productivity.7 • A Department of Labor study of 50 public sector workplac- es that have labor-management cooperation found strong evidence of reduced absenteeism. 8 One of the case studies found a 25 percent reduction in costs for lost time.9

Unions provide safe communications channels that make labor-management cooperation more effective.

• A study in the Human Resource Management Review found that “Unions that have a cooperative relationship with management ... have been linked to organizational competi- tiveness.”10 Such unions generate employee cooperation and commitment, and promote stability—all of which support high-performance work practices.11
• Union work sites are associated with using more high- performance work practices, with greater effectiveness, than other work sites.12
• Research conducted for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that efforts to re-engineer workplaces to incorpo- rate technology and employee expertise are more productive in unionized settings.13
The Center for American Progress found that formal part- nerships between teachers unions and school management lead to more extensive communication among teachers and between the union and the administration, and that this helps improve student performance.14

Unions play a key role in improving the skills of their members.

• A wide variety of studies have found that workplaces with active unions will have more training opportunities than nonunion workplaces.15 Companies in countries with a greater union presence are more likely to offer direct training than companies in other countries.16
• Unions invest heavily in joint labor-management train- ing programs that can help bring jobs to diverse popula- tions. Local Joint Apprenticeship and Training Commit- tees train roughly 40,000 apprentices in the building and construction trades each year, investing about $1.5 billion in our economy annually.17 These types of programs provide necessary craft training to increase safety and strengthen workers’ skills; the return on every $1 invested can produce as much as $3 in benefits.18
• Teachers unions provide professional development that allows members to respond to changes in policies or regu- lations, especially when the employer has not provided such support.19 Additionally, unions provide a space where teachers can develop leadership skills and understanding with regard to their role in the larger education system.20
• Unions play an integral role in ensuring that workers are continually developing skills not only to meet the needs
of their employers, but also to ensure that workers can prosper in new industries and environments.

Unions improve workplaces.

The union role in improving workplaces is part of our tradition. As early as the 1920s, union contracts had provisions creating processes for workers to identify cost- efficiencies.21 During World War II, more than 600 of the factories that made up the “arsenal of democracy” had labor-management committees focused on increasing both quantity and quality of production.22

• Collaboration between AFT unions and their manage- ment partners has led to better sharing of data on student performance and a more sophisticated response to that data. 23

• Successful labor-management cooperation to increase performance can be found across the private sector in the United States, including in the auto, airline and healthcare industries.24

The American Federation of Teachers is a union of 1.6 million professionals that champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities. We are committed to advancing these principles through community engagement, organizing, collective bargaining and political activism, and especially through the work our members do.

Randi Weingarten Lorretta Johnson Mary Cathryn Ricker president secretary-treasurer executive vice president


1 Delery, John E., et al. “Unionization, compensation, and voice effects on quits and retention.” Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society 39.4 (2000): 625-645.
2 Milanowski, Anthony Thomas, Hope Longwell-Grice,

it right: Empirical evidence and policy implications from research on public- sector unionism and collective bargaining.” Available at SSRN 1792942 (2011). Felicia Saffold, Janice Jones, Kristen Schomisch and Allan Odden. “Recruiting new teachers to urban school districts: What incentives will work?” Interna- tional Journal of Education Policy and Leadership 4, no. 8 (2009).

3 Waldman, J. Deane, Frank Kelly, Sanjeev Aurora, and Howard L. Smith. “The shocking cost of turnover in health care.” Health Care Management Review 29, no. 1 (2004): 2-7.
4 Pohler, Dionne M., and Andrew A. Luchak. “Balancing Efficiency, Equity, and Voice The Impact of Unions and High-Involvement Work Practices on Work Outcomes.” ILR Review (2014): 0019793914546295.

5 Hammer, Tove Helland, and Ariel Avgar. “The impact of unions on job satis- faction, organizational commitment, and turnover.” Journal of Labor Research 26, no. 2 (2005): 241-266.
6 Delery, John E., et al. “ Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society 39, no. 4 (2000): 625-645.

7 Voos, Paula B. “How unions can help restore the middle class.” Economic Policy Institute, March 2009,
8 Department of Labor, “Working together for public service.” 1996 http://1.usa. gov/1YpuKYp
9 Ibid.
10 Gill, Carol. “Union impact on the effective adoption of high performance work practices.” Human Resource Management Review 19, no. 1 (2009): 39-50. 11 Ibid.
12 Appelbaum, Eileen. “High-performance work practices and sustainable economic growth.” EPRN (2015).
13 Lewin, David, Thomas A. Kochan, Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Teresa Ghilar- ducci, Harry C. Katz, Jeffrey Keefe, Daniel J.B. Mitchell, Craig A. Olson, Saul A. Rubinstein, and Christian E. Weller. “Getting
14 Rubinstein, Saul A. and John E. McCarthy. “Teachers unions and manage- ment partnerships: How working together improves student achievement.” Center for American Progress, March 2014,
15 Verma, Anil. “What do unions do to the workplace? Union effects on manage- ment and HRM policies.” Journal of Labor Research 26, no. 3 (2005): 415-449.
16 Green, Francis, Stephen Machin, and David Wilkinson. “Trade unions and training practices in British workplaces.” Industrial and Labor Relations Review 52, no. 2 (1999): 179-195.
17 “Labor-Management Partnerships.” AFL-CIO. Learn-About-Unions/Training-and-Apprenticeships/Labor-Management- Partnerships.
18 Goodrum, P., Y. Wang, C. Haas, R. Glover, and S. Vaziri. “Construction industry craft training in the United States and Canada.” Research Summary, Construction Industry Institute, the University of Texas at Austin (2007).
19 Villegas-Reimers, Eleonora. Teacher professional development: an inter- national review of the literature. Paris: International Institute for Educational Planning, 2003.
20 Bascia, Nina. “The other side of the equation: Professional development and the organizational capacity of teacher unions.” Educational Policy 14, no. 3 (2000): 385-404.
21 Rubinstein, Saul A. “Unions as value-adding networks: Possibilities for the future of U.S. unionism.” Journal of Labor Research 22, no. 3 (2001): 581-598.
22 Ibid.
23 Rubinstein, Saul A. and John E. McCarthy. “Teachers unions and manage- ment partnerships: How working together improves student achievement.” Center for American Progress, March 2014,
24 Kochan, Thomas A., Adrienne E. Eaton, Robert B. McKersie, and Paul S. Adler. Healing together: The labor-management partnership at Kaiser Perman- ente. Cornell University Press, 2009. 

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