, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 519-559

Unions and wage inequality

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Summary and Conclusions

The impact of unions on the structure of wages has recently attracted renewed interest as analysts have struggled to explain the rise in earnings inequality in several industrialized countries. Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States provide a potentially valuable set of countries for examining this question. All three countries now collect comparable data on wages and union status in their regular labor force surveys. Several features of the collective bargaining institutions of these countries make them suitable for studying the relationship between unions and wage inequality. Bargaining is highly decentralized; there are no general mechanisms for extending collective bargaining provisions beyond the “organized” sector; and the fraction of the work force covered by collective bargaining is relatively modest. Thus it is possible to compare the structure of wages for workers covered by union contracts to those who are not covered, and potentially infer the effect of unions on overall wage inequality.