This past Wednesday Jasmine Kerrissey defended her dissertation, entitled “Union Mergers in the United States, 1900-2005”.
The project examines the causes and consequences of union mergers in the United States over the past century. As I told Jasmine many times, this ambitious project could easily have been two dissertations. First, she assembles historical data on essentially the entire population of mergers among national labor unions, to understand why and under what conditions unions merge. Second, she looks at the consequences of mergers for union governance — and in particular, the extent to which unions are internally democratic.
Union mergers are interesting for lots of reasons. Most of the research on organizational mergers comes from the study of private-sector firms, and so unions provide a fresh arena to test conventional arguments.
But, more interesting and important is the question of how mergers relate to the union movement specifically. Are mergers a response to external threats and the growing size of corporations which they bargain with? Changes in the political environment? Something else? And, does merging change the character of unions? No single project could fully address the latter, but Jasmine looks at a key issue: whether mergers lead to less-democratic governance. She discusses several reasons why this might occur… and, indeed, she finds that post-merger unions are often less-democratic their pre-merger counterparts (controlling for key factors, such as size). Thus the consolidation of unions has arguably generated some adverse consequences for the labor movement.
The project includes remarkable quantitative data and analyses (building on Judy Stepan-Norris’s unrivaled dataset on American unions), and rich archival research — a real empirical tour de force, with a very compelling case study that unpacks the findings of the quantitative research.
Having known next-to-nothing about unions before meeting Jasmine a few years back, it has been a pleasure to see this project develop, and also to work with Jasmine on various collaborative endeavors. Judy Stepan-Norris was the chair (Caleb Southworth, Cal Morrill, and David Meyer were also on the committee)… I was just along for the ride.
Anyhow, congratulations Jasmine!