Organizing for Representation: A Study of American Labor Unions and the Legislative Process Open Access

Haas, Tiffany (Spring 2019)

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Despite shifting political dynamics, labor unions continue to pursue political action at every level of government. Using the principal-agent framework for representation, I argue that while union characteristics – including membership size and resources – can reliably predict representative behavior, unions implement specific strategies for concretizing the relationship between its members and their elected representatives. To measure the degree to which elected representatives behave in organized labor’s political interests I introduce a novel dataset, drawing on national union stances on legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives and associated sponsorship and co-sponsorship activity. Testing Congressional district-level union characteristics against my measure of labor representation, supplemented by interviews with union political organizers, I partially confirm my district-characteristic hypotheses and am able to identify and assess several strategies unions utilize to sway representative behavior. My specific findings offer insight into not only the collective action-based strategies employed by unions, but also the collective action problems among unions and the overall organized labor political network. These findings have implications for our understanding of political participation and the role interest groups play in representative democracies, particularly those formed by collective action.

Table of Contents

Section I: Introduction 1

Section II: Historical Context 4

Section III: Theory and Hypotheses 7

Section IV: Data, Methods, and Research Design 23

Section V: Results 35

Section VI: Discussion 44

Section VII: Conclusion 51

References 55

Appendix 57

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