The main assumption behind union participation is that an individual will participate if the opportunities to participate are known, if the capability exists to use one or more of these opportunities, and if there is a willingness to do so (Klandermans, 1986). The reasons for union participation can, therefore, arise from two sources: the availability and the motivation to participate. Review of the literature has revealed five common approaches to union participation: the social background model, the work dissatisfaction model, the economic model, the socialization model, and the structural model. This paper will argue that three of the models, namely, work dissatisfaction, economic reasons, and socialization, represent motivational considerations for union participation. The structural model represents the availability to participate. The social background model represents both motivational and availability sources for participation.

Work dissatisfaction model. This model views union participation as a reaction to frustration, dissatisfaction, or alienation in the work situation. At the heart of this approach is the belief that unions are symptoms of incomplete integration within the company. Bacharach, Bamberger and Conley (1990) offer an explanation for the effect of work-related variables on the individual’s integration into the organization. A high level of “integration” is generally viewed as having been achieved when employees feel that they can have an impact on organizational decisions, when they have a sense of being treated fairly by the organization with respect to their careers, and when they receive job feedback. Research findings have demonstrated the effects of variables representing this approach upon forms of union participation. For example, job satisfaction and satisfaction with administration were found to be predictors of unionization (Premack & Hunter,1988); job alienation affected union loyalty (Fullagar & Barling, 1989); job involvement and extrinsic satisfaction reduced administrative activity and meeting attendance respectively (McShane, 1986a).

The work dissatisfaction model is presented in this study by four variables: job satisfaction, role conflict, autonomy, and opportunities for promotion. Job satisfaction should affect participation: because of dissatisfaction with the work situation or alienation from it, union participation might increase. The greater’ the dissatisfaction, the more willing is the employee to participate. Role conflict and autonomy (e.g., more role conflict; less autonomy) are specific work situation characteristics that can lead to frustration on the job, which may lead employees to search for alternatives, such as the union.

The ‘variable, opportunities for promotion, was included based on pinrad’s (1960) argument that those more oriented towards occupational advance, particularly toward a supervisory or managerial position, are less likely to be active in their unions. On the other hand, those who perceive that their future promotion opportunities in the organization are limited will direct their expectations toward the union and become more active in it.

Economic model. This model emphasizes low pay as a source of discontent and predicts additional effects of economic variables. The employees enjoying fewer rewards in the organization will become more militant in an attempt to improve their rewards through the union (e.g., Schutt, 1982; Martin, 1986). Anderson (1979) suggested that union participation can be perceived within the “payoff for participation” argument which asserts that union members tend to exercise their right not to participate except when there is an important issue such as a potential payoff at stake. There are several findings in the literature that indicate a relationship between participation forms and variables representing the economic model. For example, meeting attendance was related to salary; voting participation was affected by employment status (McShane, 1986a); wage level and union instrumentality were related to unionization (Premack & Hunter, 1988; Wheeler & McClendon,1991), black participation in union activities was less dependent on salary than was white participation (Hoyman & Stallworth, 1987).

Salary is a common indicator of the economic model and will be shown as such. Low salaried employees have greater potential payoffs at stake and should be more willing to participate in the union. Perceived union success in improving wages and social benefits will be included; this is based on the argument of Perline and Lorenz (1970) that the union member identifies with the union only when it achieves what it promises in terms of higher wages and better working conditions. Another variable that represents the economic model from the union perspective is permanence. According to the North American system “non permanence” refers to unionized employees who are hired initially into a “probationary” status during which they do not enjoy contractual protection that limits discharges to “just cause” reasons. Permanence is a benefit usually achieved by the union. Increased participation from permanent employees is expected because of greater security from management which often views union participation in a negative light.

Union instrumentality was included in this research based on the Fullagar and Barling (1989) finding that this variable strongly affected union loyalty. Extensively employed in the literature that deals with union commitment (Heshizer et al., 1990), and unionization decision ( Summers et al., 1986), this variable is a good indicator of the benefits of participation to the employees from the union perspective.

The socialization model. The main argument behind the socialization model is that the climate which union members are exposed to, both on and off the job, may influence their participation. Perline and Lorenz (1970) argued that the extent of newcomer orientation is dominant in maintaining and increasing levels of activity. They also proposed that participation is inextricably bound up with group culture and that the individual’s decision to participate is influenced by the group to which s/he belongs. The socialization model can be integrated with interactionism theories that relate participation to the networks and groups inside and/or outside the company in which the employee works (Klandermans, 1986). Consequently, variables such as individual and parental political sympathies, class consciousness, image of society, and political economic ideology are clearly related to the degree of activism in the union (Lockwood, 1966; Nicholson, Ursell, & Blyton, 1981; Perline & Lorenz, 1970).

Research on union commitment (e.g., Gordon et at., 1980; Fullagar & Barling, 1989) and union militancy (e.g., Schutt, 1982; Martin, 1986) has supported the importance of socialization variables upon forms of participation. Moreover, community-political activities, philosophy of unionism, and socio-political liberalism were found to be important predictors of participation in union activities (Huszczo, 1983); voting was related to social integration (McShane, 1986a); and union attitudes and training satisfaction were the major important predictors of union loyalty (Fullagar, McCoy, & Shull, 1992).

The socialization model is represented in this study by four variables, One of them, political affiliation, may have special significance regarding the Israeli sample. Unions in Israel are controlled by the Labor party in coalition with other left-oriented parties. It was expected that employees who identified with the left-wing parties would demonstrate higher levels of militancy and a greater propensity to strike. Socialization to the union was proposed as another variable by O’Reilly, Bloom and Parlette (1977) who found that contextual conformity to group norms was one of the most prominent influences on members’ attitudes toward, and participation in, a strike of public health nurses. This variable was found to affect union commitment strongly (Gordon et al., 1980).

Union activity of relatives was included as the third variable based on Spinrad’s (1960) argument that the intensive interaction with union activists affects pro-union attitudes and behaviors. The fourth variable, attitudes of “significant others” was included following the findings of Gordon et al. (1980)and Martin (1986) who assert that support from this group was a strong predictorof union commitment and willingness to strike for the union.

Structural model. The argument of the structural model is that, while the decision or the motivation to participate may be in the members’ domain, the structure of both the union and the organization can limit or increase the ability of active members to actually participate. Perline and Lorenz (1970) argued that organizational properties of the union directly affect the levels of participation. They mentioned structural determinants such as size, leadership and perceived control. The size of the union influences participation by its effect upon the environment in which the member participates. As the size of the union grows, the atmosphere for individual participation diminishes. Once the local union becomes an organization devoted to large numbers of people, much of the direct relation between leaders and members dies as it does among the members themselves.

Anderson (1978) suggested three structural characteristics: (1) environmental factors that refer to the external setting in which the union operates (e.g. union-management relations and environmental uncertainty); (2) structural factors, which refer to the bureaucratic structure within union organizations, such as complexity and control mechanisms (e.g. centralization of decisions, standardization of procedures for handling problems), and (3) internal factors which include electoral and communication processes.

Research findings have shown structural variables relating to various forms of union participation. For example, the union-employer relationships variable was found to be related to the union commitment of the union’s stewards and the rank-and-file (Fullagar, McCoy, & Shull, 1992; Magenau, Martin, & Peterson, 1988); objective organizational characteristics such as those related to size ofthe local union, the composition of the work force it represents, and some facets of its internal political life were found to be the most powerful predictors of attitudinal militancy (Shirom,1977).

The structural model in this study includes both union and organizational structural characteristics. Organizational size is included because it can be expected that smaller locals and/or organizations facilitate participation. It is worth noting that in the Israeli setting the size of the organization reflects the size of the local union. Sector is included with the expectation that the availability for participation is greater in public sector organizations because of increased job security and more formalized arrangements between unions and management regarding participation. Union and organizational communication, as indicators of more specific structural characteristics, should also positively affect the accessibility of participation.

Social background model. The impact of background variables on forms of union participation has been extensively analyzed. This model predicts that the background characteristics of employees may influence their perceptions of events and provide a frame of reference in situations for which no clear occupational norms exist. However, it seems that this model combines both motivational and availability considerations of union participation. For example, gender has been found to be related to militancy. Males are, in general, more willing to strike than females (Alutto & Belasco, 1974; Black, 1983). As second earners in many cases, females are less motivated to participate than males (Anderson, 1979). This may also be explained by lower availability to participate because of stronger family responsibilities and commitments.

The same argument can be applied to tenure and age. Researchers have found that younger employees are more militant than older employees (e.g., Alutto & Belasco, 1974; Black, 1983; Shirom, 1977). Younger and less tenured employees may perceive the union as one of the means to achieve their goals more quickly. In the early stages of their careers, young employees may be unaware of the opportunities for participation and be more hesitant to participate because of job security considerations. Similar logic can be applied to the education variable. Better-educated employees may have lower motivation to participate than their less educated colleagues as they can achieve better rewards because of their higher education.

The less educated employees, however, have fewer opportunities for participation in the workplace because of limited autonomy and increased supervisory control. In this research, the employee background model includes the education variable in addition to the more common background variables of age, gender, and tenure, based on the assumption that better-educated employees tend to rely more on their education than on the union for increased rewards. Negative relationships will therefore be expected between education and forms of union participation.

Aaron Cohen


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