Environmental Economics and Policy Studies

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 761–788 | Cite as

Job versus environment: an examination on the attitude of union members toward environmental spending

  • Meng-jieu ChenEmail author
Research Article


There seems to be a widespread perception in the United States that labor union members are indifferent or even hostile to environmental protection efforts. Previous work on the nature of the relationship between labor unions and environmentalists, mostly drawn from case studies and interviews with union leaders, has not reached consistent conclusions. To provide a realistic examination of the relationship, we apply an empirical analysis to investigate attitudes of individual union members toward the stringency of environmental policies. Using the General Social Survey, we examine grass-root union members’ preferences for public environmental spending options. Contrary to prevailing perceptions of conflict, we find a positive association between union membership and the choosing to increase environmental spending. Further, investigating the environmental attitude of union members in heavily regulated industries, we do not find evidence to support the argument that these laborers tend to be unfavorable toward environment. Our results also suggest that the level of regulation an industry is facing does not appear to have a statistically significant effect on respondent’s choice of environmental spending.


Union Environmental spending preference Highly polluting industries 


  1. Adkin L (1998) Politics of sustainable development: citizens, unions and the corporations. Black Rose Books, QuebecGoogle Scholar
  2. Baabereyir A, Jewitt S, O’Hara S (2012) Dumping on the poor: the ecological distribution of Accra’s solid-waste burden. Environ Plan A 44:297–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Berman E, Bui LTM (2001a) Environmental regulation and labor demand: evidence from the South Coast Air Basin. J Public Econ 79:265–295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berman E, Bui LTM (2001b) Environmental regulation and productivity: evidence from oil refineries. Rev Econ Stat 83:498–510CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berman DM, O’Connor JT (1996) Who owns the sun? People, politics, and the struggle for a solar economy. Chelsea Green, White River JunctionGoogle Scholar
  6. Bord RJ, O’Connor RE (1997) The gender gap in environmental attitudes: the case of perceived vulnerability to risk. Soc Sci Q 78:830–840Google Scholar
  7. Broner F, Bustos P, Carvalhoy VM (2013) Sources of comparative advantage in polluting industries. CREI, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, and Barcelona GSE, pp 1–51Google Scholar
  8. Buttel FH, Larson OW (1980) Whither environmentalism—the future political path of the environmental movement. Nat Resour J 20:323–344Google Scholar
  9. Buttel F, Geisler C, Wiswall I (1984) Labor and the environment. Greenwood, WestportGoogle Scholar
  10. Carkoglu A, Kentmen-Cin C (2015) Economic development, environmental justice, and pro-environmental behavior. Environ Politics 24:575–597CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chakraborty J, Collins TW, Grineski SE, Montgomery MC, Hernandez M (2014) Comparing disproportionate exposure to acute and chronic pollution risks: a case study in Houston, Texas. Risk Anal 34:2005–2020CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Christiansen GB, Haveman RH (1981) The contribution of environmental regulations to the slowdown in productivity growth. J Environ Econ Manag 8:381–390CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cialani C (2007) Economic growth and environmental quality: an econometric and a decomposition analysis. Manag Environ Qual 18:568–577CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cole MA, Elliott RJ (2007) Do environmental regulations cost jobs? An industry-level analysis of the UK. B E J Econ Anal Policy 7:28Google Scholar
  15. Cole MA, Elliott RJR, Okubo T (2010) Trade, environmental regulations and industrial mobility: an industry-level study of Japan. Ecol Econ 69:1995–2002CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Conroy SJ, Emerson TLN (2014) A tale of trade-offs: the impact of macroeconomic factors on environmental concern. J Environ Manag 145:88–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Copeland BR, Taylor MS (1994) North-south trade and the environment. Quart J Econ 109:755–787CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Daub SJ (2010) Negotiating sustainability: climate change framing in the communications, energy and paperworkers Union. Symb Interact 33:115–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dewey S (1998) Working for the environment—organized labor and the origins of environmentalism in the United States, 1948–1970. Environ Hist 3:45–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dietz T, Kalof L, Stern PC (2002) Gender, values, and environmentalism. Soc Sci Q 83:353–364CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dowie M (1996) Losing ground: American environmentalism at the close of the twentieth century. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  22. Dreiling M (1997) Remapping North America environmentalism: contending visions and divergent practices in the fight over NAFTA. Capital Nat Soc 8:65–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dunlap RE (1991) Trends in public-opinion toward environmental issues: 1965–1990. Soc Nat Resour 4:285–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Elliott E, Regens JL, Seldon BJ (1995) Exploring variation in public support of environmental protection. Soc Sci Q 76:41–52Google Scholar
  25. Elliott E, Seldon BJ, Regens JL (1997) Political and economic determinants of individuals’ support for environmental spending. J Environ Manag 51:15–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Estabrook Thomas, Siqueira CE, Machado EP (2000) Labor-community alliances in petrochemical regions in the United States and Brazil: what does it take to win? Capital Nat Soc 11:113–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. European Communities Commission Background Report (1978) Keynes in new guise. Positive environment policies can create new jobsGoogle Scholar
  28. Freudenburg WR, Wilson LJ, O’Leary DJ (1998) Forty years of spotted owls? A longitudinal analysis of logging industry job losses. Sociol Perspect 41:1–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gelissen J (2007) Explaining popular support for environmental protection—a multilevel analysis of 50 nations. Environ Behav 39:392–415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gladwin TN (1980) Patterns of environmental conflict over industrial facilities in the United-States, 1970–78. Nat Resour J 20:243–274Google Scholar
  31. Goodstein E (1999) The trade-off myth: fact and fiction about jobs and the environment. Island Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  32. Gordon R (1998) “Shell no!” OCAW and the labor-environmental alliance. Environ Hist 3:460–487CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gottlieb R (2005) Forcing the spring: the transformation of the American environmental movement. Island Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  34. Gould KA, Lewis TL, Roberts JT (2004a) Blue-Green coalitions: constraints and possibilities in the post 9–11 political environment. J World Syst Res 10:91–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gould KA, Pellow DN, Schnaiberg A (2004b) Interrogating the treadmill of production—everything you wanted to know about the treadmill but were afraid to ask. Org Environ 17:296–316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gray WB, Shadbegian RJ (2013) Do the job effects of regulation differ with the competitive environment? In: Coglianese C, Finkel AM, Carrigan C (eds) Does regulation kill jobs?. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, pp 51–69Google Scholar
  37. Gray WB, Shadbegian RJ, Wang C, Meral M (2014) Do EPA regulations affect labor demand? Evidence from the pulp and paper industry. J Environ Econ Manag 68:188–202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Greenstone M (2002) The impacts of environmental regulations on industrial activity: evidence from the 1970 and 1977 Clean Air Act amendments and the Census of Manufactures. J Polit Econ 110:1175–1219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Grossman GM, Krueger AB (1995) Economic-growth and the environment. Q J Econ 110:353–377CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hafstead M, Williams RC (2015) How do environmental policy affect employment? Resources Magazine, p 43Google Scholar
  41. Hamilton LC (1985) Concern about toxic wastes—3 demographic predictors. Sociol Perspect 28:463–486CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hays SP (1998) Explorations in environmental history. University of Pittsburgh Press, PittsburghGoogle Scholar
  43. Jones RE, Dunlap RE (1992) The social bases of environmental concern- have they changed over time. Rural Sociol 57:28–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kazis R, Grossman RL (1982a) Fear at work: job blackmail, labor, and the environment. Pilgrim Press, USAGoogle Scholar
  45. Kazis R, Grossman RL (1982b) Environmental protection-job-taker or job-maker. Environment 24:12–23Google Scholar
  46. Kojola E, Xiao C, McCright AM (2014) Environmental concern of labor union members in the United States. Sociol Q 55:72–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Levinson A (1996) Environmental regulations and manufacturers’ location choices: evidence from the census of manufactures. J Public Econ 62:5–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Liao P-S, Shaw D, Lin Y-M (2015) Environmental quality and life satisfaction: subjective versus objective measures of air quality. Soc Indicator Res 124:599–616CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Low P, Yeats A (1992) Do ‘dirty’ industries migrate?. The World Bank, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  50. Lowe GD, Pinhey TK (1982) Rural-urban difference in support for environmental protection. Rural Sociol 47:114–128Google Scholar
  51. Lowe GD, Pinhey TK, Grimes MD (1980) Public support for environmental protection-new evidence from national surveys. Pac Sociol Rev 23:423–445CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Mani M, Wheeler D (1999) In search of pollution havens? Dirty industry in the world economy, 1960–1995. Trade, global policy, and the environment, pp 115–128Google Scholar
  53. Maslow AH (1970) Motivation and personality. Viking Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  54. McConnell VD, Schwab RM (1990) The impact of environmental regulation on industry location decisions-the motor vehicle industry. Land Econ 66:67–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Morgenstern RD, Pizer WA, Shih JS (2002) Jobs versus the environment: an industry-level perspective. J Environ Econ Manag 43:412–436CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Obach BK (2002) Labor-environmental relations: an analysis of the relationship between labor unions and environmentalists. Soc Sci Q 83:82–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Obach BK (2004a) Mobilizing unions for environmental protection. Renew Resour J 22:11–15Google Scholar
  58. Obach BK (2004b) New labor—slowing the treadmill of production? Org Environ 17:337–354CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Obach BK (2010) Blue-green coalitions: fighting for safe workplaces and healthy communities. Am J Sociol 115:1306–1308CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. O’Connor J (1980) Capitalism, nature, socialism: a theoretical introduction. Capital Nat Social 1:11–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Ohler AM (2015) Factors affecting the rise of renewable energy in the US: concern over environmental quality or rising unemployment? Energy J 36:97–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Rathzel N, Uzzell D (2011) Trade unions and climate change: the jobs versus environment dilemma. Global Environ Change Human Policy Dimens 21:1215–1223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Schnaiberg A (1980) The environment: from surplus to scarcity. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  64. Scott P (2003) A political theology of nature. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Scruggs L, Benegal S (2012) Declining public concern about climate change: can we blame the great recession? Global Environ Change Human Policy Dimens 22:505–515CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Van L, Dunlap R (1980) The social bases of environmental concern: a review of hypotheses, explanations and empirical evidence. Public Opin Q 44:181–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Whittaker M, Segura GM, Bowler S (2005) Racial/ethnic group attitudes toward environmental protection in California: is “environmentalism” still a white phenomenon? Polit Res Q 58:435–447Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Society for Environmental Economics and Policy Studies and Springer Japan 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics, Institute for the Study of International Aspects of CompetitionUniversity of Rhode IslandKingstonUSA

Personalised recommendations