Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Voice Effects of Public Sector Unions on Turnover: Evidence from Teacher Contracts

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Voice Effects of Public Sector Unions on Turnover: Evidence from Teacher Contracts

Article excerpt

After the passage of collective bargaining laws across states during the 1970s, there was initial rapid growth in the unionization of public sector employees. This growth has stabilized since the 1980s, while unionization in the private sector has been falling (Riccucci, 2007). According to a 2014 U.S. Bureau of Labor report, the union membership rate in local governments, which employ approximately 16.9 million individuals, is 40.8%. (1) This rate is six times higher than the private sector rate of 6.7%. Of these local government unions, 4.5 million are teacher unions, which is one of the most heavily unionized occupations.

In addition to their substantial size in the public sector, teacher unions play an influential role, not only in electoral campaigns of national and state politics but also in policy-making (Davis, 2013; Moe, 2008; Riccucci, 2011). For example, the National Education Association (NE A) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are significant political campaign donors. They are often involved in shaping education policy to be more favorable toward them.

Related research presents two opposing arguments regarding the impact of teacher unions on organizational outcomes. One argument against teacher unions is that the outcome of collective bargaining with rigid rules restricts management discretion in educating children and often leads to poor organizational performance. A large body of empirical research examines whether teacher unions hinder organizations' competitiveness, performance, and innovation. However, there is not a consensus about the impacts of teacher unions (Eberts & Stone, 1987; Hoxby, 1996; Moe, 2008, 2011).

Supporters of teacher unions argue that one benefit of unionization is a reduction in turnover. Efficiency wage theory posits that higher wages in organizations with unions enable the retention of employees because they are not willing to risk earning less money in other jobs (Katz, 1986). Applying Hirschman's exit and voice model to labor unions, Freeman and Medoff (1980, 1984) argue that unions are an avenue through which workers can voice their concerns. As an alternative to exit, additional voice mechanisms in the unionized work setting could reduce employee turnover. A great volume of research empirically documents that employees in a unionized work environment are less likely to exit because of voice mechanisms, even when wages and other factors are held constant (Batt, Colvin, & Keefe, 2002; Delery, Gupta, Shaw, Jenkins, & Ganster, 2000; Freeman, 1980; Hammer & Avgar, 2005; Rees, 1991).

Based on Hirschman's exit and voice model, this article examines the impact of voice mechanisms on turnover using the case of teacher unions in New York State. In addition, we identify the heterogeneous effects of voice mechanisms on turnover, depending on observable teacher characteristics. We use rich administrative data sets--teacher contracts from the State of New York Public Employee Relations Board (PERB), individual teacher employment data from the Personnel Master File (PMF), and School Report Card data from the NY State Department of Education (NYSDE).

Hirschman (1970) defines voice as "expressing employees' dissatisfaction directly to management or to some other authority to which management is subordinate or through general protest addressed to anyone who cares to listen" (p. 4). Freeman (1980) further argues that the grievance procedure as the voice mechanism offers employees an alternative to exiting their professions. With the stronger and wider coverage of grievance procedures, employees are more able to express concerns related to the mismanagement of school districts. Through grievance procedures, management decisions can be reversed. Even if a grievance is not upheld, the employee at least perceives that his/her complaints are being considered (Rees, 1991).

Existing studies show that voice mechanisms decrease turnover in unionized organizations (Batt et al. …

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