Union participation is a concept that has received widespread attention from theorists, researchers, and policy makers. A substantial body of literature has developed around this issue, stressing several reasons for its importance. Huszczo (1983) argued that although attitudes of union members toward their union are often favorable, a relative lack of participation by members in union activities has been of great interest to union leaders and researchers over the years.

Anderson (1978) emphasized the importance of union participation as an indicator of the quality of union democracy. It was concluded by Child, Loveridge and Warner (1973) that a generally low proportion of members actively participating in union meetings and elections indicates inadequate operation of union democracy. Ramaswamy (1977) argued that participation has two clear consequences. First, it creates a sense of community in the rank-and-file. This sense is particularly pronounced among hose sections of the membership which are drawn into the union for reasons ther than job interest. Secondly, participation has the capacity to
generate its own defence against oligarchy.

There is consensus in the iterature that participation in unions may take many forms (Klandermans, 1986). However, the term union participation has been used to denote many different forms of participation within the union. For example, McShane (1986a; 1986b), Glick, Mirvis and Harder (1977) as well as Hoyman and Stallworth (1987) have used the term to refer to participation in union activities, while Anderson (1978) used it to refer to other forms of participation such as perceived participation in decision-making and actual participation at meetings. Klandermans (1984a; 1984b; 1986) used the term in measuring the willingness to take part in moderate/militant action. The ambiguity of the term and the differences among forms of union participation has led to concern by some researchers in this area.

Martin (1986) argued that there is an overlap in the literature among the concepts of militancy, striking and participation in union activities. Klandermans (1986) argued that union participation is multidimensional. Not only is union participation made up of several dimensions,he claimed, but the various forms require different explanations. Strauss (1977)maintained that it is difficult to provide systematic accounts of which determinants pertain to which forms of participation, as determinants of one form of union participation may not be determinants of another. The purpose of this research is to explore empirically the multidimensionality of union participation.

This article examines similarities and differences among six common forms of union participation: union commitment, participation in decision making, participation in union activities, attitudinal militancy, service in elected offices and propensity to strike. At this stage of the research on union participation, the need is to develop a clear taxonomy of forms of union participation (Klandermans, 1986). There is a need to validate empirically whether or not the various forms previously examined are independent constructs.The next step is to explore the different mechanisms and processes that affect the independent forms of union participation because characteristics and circumstances that motivate and constrain one form may have little or no effect on others. If research regarding union participation is to remain valid, the nature of the relationships among the various forms needs to be clarified.

From a practical viewpoint, McShane (1986a) argued that developing a model of union participation would have significant ramifications for union government research. From the organizational approach, the survival and strength of a union come from the motivation, ability and opportunity of members to fill the established roles and to perform the acts required by the organization. By specifying these acts in terms of multidimensional constructs and measures, researchers will be able to understand the dynamics of union participation more clearly and, possibly, assist unions in their quest for greater membership involvement and increased organizational strength. Moreover, this knowledge could assist union leaders in plans for increasing union participation by applying different tactics to different forms of participation.

From a managerial perspective, a better understanding of the forms and sources of union participation has several potential implications. First, some forms of participation, such as striking, have a direct effect upon productivity. Second, understanding whether union participation is a result of union structure and effectiveness or dissatisfaction with management operation will enable management to improve its methods in employee management.

Third, exploring how unions deal with their attempts to increase participation (despite the fact that unions do not compensate their members for participation) can assist managers in their search for ways to increase positive attitudes and behaviors of their employees. Finally, relating union participation to organizational performance measures might well assist management in resolving the question of whether active union members are more or less effective than nonactive members. The concept of dual versus unilateral commitment to union and organization can exemplify this point.

Union participation research can deal with questions such as the implications of being committed to the union on commitment to the organization and whether unions cause a reduction in the level of organizational commitment. A broader question is whether there is a conflict between union participation and organizational performance? Could involvement in union activities lead to less effort on behalf of the organization and to a lower level of performance. All these issues are, no doubt, relevant to managers and management scholars; and the increased interest in the concept of dual versus unilateral commitment to union and organization (Gordon & Ladd, 1990; Gallagher & Strauss, 1991) support this contention.

Past Research: A Literature Review

Klandermans (1986) classified the forms of union participation into four categories. The first was membership which included the following forms: joining the union, commitment to the union, and resignation. The second category included holding a position in the union and participation in union decision making. The third category was participation in union activities, and the fourth was participation in industrial action, namely, striking.

What follows is a brief review of the forms of union participation focusing on each form’s unique characteristics. The forms of participation can be divided into active or passive. Active participation refers to forms that represent ongoing processes that involve the employee in which there is an investment of a considerable amount of time and/or other personal contributions. Passive participation refers to forms that reflect supportive attitudes or ad hoc behaviors in which investment by the employee is minimal.

While active participation generally refers to behavioral forms of participation, and passive participation to attitudinal forms of participation, there are some exceptions. For example, joining and/or withdrawing from a union is a behavior but, according to the above definition, can be regarded as a passive form of participation because the investment of time on the part of the employee is minimal.

Active forms of participation. Several forms of participation examined in the literature can be described as active. Snarr (1975), and Klandermans (1986) argued that striking should be viewed as an individual form of union participation. Strikes are undeniably the most spectacular form of industrial action. At the base of union power lies the threat to organize industrial action which can affect production. Strike behavior can vary from nation-wide to local work slowdowns, picketing, and petitioning management either verbally or in writing (Cohen & Jacobsen, 1987).

Another extensively researched form of participation is participation in union activities. This takes many forms, such as disseminating information, recruiting members, attending meetings, and reading the union newspaper. Several studies group union activities into a number of categories such as: formal activities (attending union meetings, holding office, voting in union elections), and informal activities (picketing or participating in political, community, recreational or union-sponsored training activities) (Hoyman & Stallworth, 1987); active participation (e.g., attending meetings, holding office, filing grievances, voting) and passive participation (e.g.,reading the newsletter, knowing the contract) (Heshizer, Martin, & Wiener,1990).

An entirely different way of studying union participation is to ask what are the decisions in which employees actually participate? Anderson (1979) argued that there is a conspicuous lack of evaluation of the behavior of union members or its impact on the decision-making process in existing participation scales. He suggested that union participation research should include not only union behavioral activities but also participation in, and influence over, a variety of decisions vital to the functioning of the local union. Serving in elected offices is sometimes analyzed as part of the participation in union activities form. The importance of separating and understanding the behavior and attitudes of officials and union members has led researchers to treat this as an independent form. Many studies have compared the differences between shop stewards and rank-and-file members in union-related attitudes, values and behaviors (e.g., Strauss, 1977; Anderson, 1979; Magenau, Martin, & Peterson, 1988); other studies have examined the recruitment of shop stewards (Chinoy, 1950;Nicholson, 1976).

Passive forms of union participation. An individual’s decision whether to join the union or to resign from it is important to union survival. Extensive research was conducted in an attempt to explore the determinants of such a decision (e.g., Summers, Betton, & Decotiis, 1986; Youngblood, DeNisi, Molleston, & Mobley, 1984; Premack & Hunter, 1988). Although fail in membership can be caused by de-certification, little research has been done into this aspect of unionization (e.g., Klandermans, 1986; Mellor, 1990).

Union commitment has received much attention in recent years as a result of the Gordon, Philpot, Burt, Thompson and Spiller (1980) study in which a scale for union commitment was developed. Based on factor analysis, union commitment was defined as a multidimensional construct which includes four dimensions: union loyalty, responsibility to the union, willingness to work for the union and belief in unionism. Several follow-up works have replicated the factor structure of Gordonet al. (e.g., Ladd, Gordon, Beauvais, & Morgan, 1982; Gordon, Beauvais, & Ladd, 1984; Thacker, Fields, & Tetrick.1989; Thacker, Fields, & Barclay, 1990) although some have questioned and criticized the dimensionality of the measure of Gordon et al. (Friedman & Harvey, 1986; Klandermans, 1989; Melior, 1990).

While union commitment can be perceived as the attitudinal expression of staying with or resigning from the union, attitudinal militancy, which refers to the general attitude toward strikes (Martin, 1986), can be perceived as the attitudinal expression of the inclination to strike. However, Schutt (1982) and Martin (1986) have argued that the findings and theory relating to union participation support the proposition that individual support for collective goals operates differently than support for more personal goals, such as a pay increase. This argument explains the difference between attitudinal militancy (support for a collective goal) and a propensity to strike (support for a more personal goal). The findings of Schutt (1982) and Martin (1986) emphasize the importance of measuring individual propensity to strike in relation to particular goals, as opposed to measuring attitudes toward striking in general.

Aaron Cohen


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