Academic journal article Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy

Do Unions Promote Gender Equality?

Academic journal article Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy

Do Unions Promote Gender Equality?

Article excerpt

"Many of the traditional regulations of the employment relationship no longer correspond to the real social and economic situation or to the labour market."

[Marco Biagi, Italy, in Private Employment Agencies 267, 267 (Roger Blanpain ed., 1999)]

Do workers' unions promote gender equality? The scholarship in the past thirty years has increasingly questioned the ability of unions to give voice to the needs of all workers, including foreign workers, workers with disabilities, elderly workers, gay and lesbian workers, and women. This article shows that unions promote a patriarchal division of labor in society through an empirical study of most of the sectorial collective agreements with employers in Israel. The fathers' role in these collective agreements is to support their family; the mothers' role is to raise the children. Thus several collective agreements provide mothers with flexible working hours and reimbursements for daycare centers, while not providing these rights to working fathers. Significant collective agreements grant working fathers, but not working mothers, with a special "family supplement" that is added to their monthly wages, increasing the gender wage-gap.

INTRODUCTION

Almost thirty years have passed since Richard Freeman and James Medoff first asked "[w]hat do unions do?"1 In their highly influential book, Freeman and Medoff challenged the traditional view that unions only create monopolies that lead to exaggerated wages and inefficiencies. They claimed instead that unions have two faces: "monopoly" and "voice." Unions play an important role in "voicing" workers' needs and desires to the management. Freeman and Medoff followed Albert O. Hirschman's view in "Exit, Voice, and Loyalty," emphasizing the importance of "voice" in maintaining stability and preventing employment turnover. (2) While an individual employee might fear altering his employer to his needs, unions have the ability to voice workers' collective needs. (3)

Following Freeman and Medoff, many researchers accepted unions' role as voicing workers' needs. Yet researchers also raised questions: Whose voice do unions represent? Is it the voice of all the workers or only some of them? Groups such as women, foreign workers, workers with disabilities, elderly workers, gay and lesbian workers--are their voices heard? Do unions promote equality and diversity?

The present research contributes to the current debate by looking at the results of collective agreements and negotiations in Israel from the perspective of gender. This paper is based on an empirical study of most of Israel's sectorial collective agreements in the private and public sectors. This paper shows that collective agreements (and unions) do, in fact, promote a patriarchal division of labor. Several collective agreements provide mothers with flexible working hours and reimbursements for day-care centers. Working fathers are generally not entitled to these rights. Instead, their role is to financially support the family. Therefore working fathers--but not working mothers--are entitled to special "family supplement[s]" that are added to their monthly wages. The result of this empirical research reaffirms literature claiming that unions tend to represent the 'median' worker and under-represent 'outsiders' and workers in precarious fields.

In the past few decades, feminist scholars took part in a debate regarding several questions: What is considered a "women's interest"? What is considered "gender equality"? What are the best ways to promote gender equality? (4) While feminist scholars from the "first wave of feminism" who struggled for "formal gender equality" emphasized the similarities between men and women, as well as those between one woman and another, feminist scholars from the "second wave" emphasized the differences. Furthermore, while "first wave" feminists struggled for women's right to vote and women's right for equal pay, "second wave" feminists struggled for "maternity leave" and "affirmative action. …

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