Journal of Labor Research

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 209–239 | Cite as

Unionism and employment conflict resolution: Rethinking collective voice and its consequences

  • David Lewin


IX. Conclusions and Overall Assessment The central proposition advanced by F&M is that the collective voice/response face of unionism more than counterbalances the monopoly face of unionism. Following this reasoning, it may be concluded that union workers would remain unionized and nonunion workers would become unionized. But what if the collective voice/response face of unionism does not more than counterbalance (let alone “dominate”) the monopoly face of unionism? Suppose that, consistent with the evidence presented herein, the exercise of voice in the employment relationship leads to further deterioration of the employment relationship rather than to the effective redress of worker grievances? In this circumstance, existing unions would lose members, and unorganized workers would choose not to become union members. Supposition aside, there is no question that unionization continues to decline sharply. When F&M's book first appeared, about one in five private sector workers belonged to a union; today, less than one in eight private sector workers belongs to a union. But while F&M and, later, Freeman and Rogers (1999), attributed the decline in unionization to employer/management opposition and weak labor law, some of this decline can be attributed to worker resistance. Such resistance may stem, in turn and following F&M, from recognition of the net negative consequences of unionism's monopoly face, but also, and contrary to F&M, from recognition of the net negative consequences of unionism's collective voice/response face. If workers judged unions' voice response face, in particular, grievance procedures, to be effective in redressing worker grievances, more union workers would likely remain union members and more unorganized workers would join unions — even in the “face” of employer opposition. While there is little question that there are widely varying types of real-world employment relationships or that unions are best suited to protecting worker interests in certain of these (usually highly adversarial) relationships, the fact that workers as a whole decreasingly choose to become union members suggests that they do not perceive union voice to be effective in redressing deteriorated employment relationships or to be more effective in this respect than nonunion voice options. Such reasoning is consistent with the picture sketched in this paper — a different picture from that forwarded by F&M — of unionism and grievance procedures as largely reactive, adversarial-oriented mechanisms for dealing with workplace conflict resolution, especially in a pluralist, mixed-motive type of employment relationship.


Industrial Relation Dispute Resolution Employment Relationship Labor Relation Review Alternative Dispute Resolution 
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© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Lewin
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CaliforniaLos Angeles

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