"Upon its publication in 1984, Richard Freeman and James Medoff's widely acclaimed What Do Unions Do? rewrote economists' understanding of the impact of labor unions. The book under review, originally published as a six-part symposium in the Journal of Labor Research, reassesses Freeman and Medoff's book and the title question in light of two decades of additional data, experience, and perspective. The contributors are among the field's most respected and well-published scholars. Their 20 chapters approach the issue from a judicious, complementary combination of theoretical, empirical, institutional, international, and historical angles grappling with the impact of unions on wages, inequality, employee benefits, productivity, profitability, human resource management policies, conflict resolution, employee voice, job satisfaction, job turnover, macroeconomic performance, and politics. Highlights include Barry Hirsch's chapter, "What Do Unions Do for Economic Performance?" It concludes that Freeman and Medoff's provocative thesis that unions substantially increase productivity "has not held up well." Other highlights are Bruce Kaufman's chapter giving an overall assessment and commentary on the original volume and Richard Freeman's closing remarks--which concede little ground to critics. This encyclopedic, balanced volume is a must for any collection on unions, labor studies, or labor economics. Esssential."
"In 1984, Harvard professors Richard Freeman and James Medoff published a book entitled What Do Unions Do?... The book was greatly discussed back in the mid-1980s and it remains one of the most frequently cited works in the labor law and economics... The United States is overdue for a rethinking of its authoritarian labor relations law. When that time comes, Perspective will have a role to play in shaping the debate."
—George C. Leef Regulation Winter, 2008
About the Author
James T. Bennett is professor of economics at George Mason University. He is the founder and editor of the Journal of Labor Research and a prolific author.
Bruce E. Kaufman is professor of economics and senior associate of the W.T. Beebe Institute of Personnel and Employment Relations at Georgia State University. His most recent books are The Global Evolution of Industrial Relations (2004) and Theoretical Perspectives on Work and the Employment Relationship (2004).