Alums PERI

Occupations ideal for unionizing

Jeannette Wicks-Lim

Jeannette Wicks-Lim ’05 PhD and assistant research professor at the Political Economy Research Institute, is cited in a report on the occupations most likely to gain from unionization including nursing aides, office clerks, accounting clerks and janitors. (, 5/30/11)

Types of Jobs that are Ideal for Unionizing

Most of the job growth that will occur in the United States by the year 2016 will be in low-paying occupations. Unions could improve overall job quality.

Unions have historically existed to protect workers from unsafe working conditions, unfair treatment, low pay and insufficient benefits. According to AFL-CIO, one of the nation’s largest organized unions, over 36 percent of public employees are unionized compared to only 6.9 percent of private sector workers.

This is primarily due to the fact that private sector labor laws do not prohibit employers from using intimidation and harassment to prevent unionization. While educators continue to represent a large portion of unionized workers, according to a 2009 educational study written by Jeannette Wicks-Lim at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, the following four occupations stand to gain the greatest benefit from union representation: nursing aids/personal home health care aids, general office clerks, janitors, and accounting clerks.

Folbre Kurtulus

Folbre blogs on “Shared Capitalism”

Nancy Folbre

Nancy Folbre, UMass Amherst economics professor, discusses “shared capitalism,” a term for arrangements that businesses can make to share profits with employees, in her Economix blog. She notes that her departmental colleague, Fidan Kurtulus and another economist last week offered evidence that companies with employee ownership showed greater employment stability during economic downturns between 1999 and 2008. The study was presented at the London School of Economics. (New York Times, 5/30/11)

May 30, 2011
Shared Capitalism

How could public policies promote and expand this shared capitalism? Public policies already offer companies tax benefits for setting up employee stock-ownership plans, and these could be increased. It would also be relatively easy to encourage companies to offer more workers incentive pay based on company performance.

In a report published by the Center for American Progress in March, Professors Freeman, Blasi and Kruse point to a strange anomaly in current tax policy: Companies are allowed to write off costly stock options that represent incentive pay for top executives, despite a lack of evidence that such incentives lead to improved company performance.

Why not restrict the tax benefits to companies that provide the same type of incentive pay for all full-time employees, stipulating that the value expended on the bottom 80 percent of employees by salary must equal at least that expended on the top 5 percent?

Similar restrictions have long been in effect for employee retirement and health plans. The costs of these programs are not tax-deductible unless they are offered in a nondiscriminatory way to all workers.

Private-sector precedents are also strong. Two very successful American companies, the Wegmans supermarkets and Cisco Systems, offer broad-based incentive systems that effectively meet these restrictions.

If America’s capitalists mean what they say about the virtues of an ownership economy, they should throw their weight behind modest changes in tax incentives that could expand it. If they don’t, we might infer that they prefer to keep the benefits of ownership to themselves.