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The Role of Labor Unions in Response to Pandemics: The case of COVID-19


Peyman Firouzi-Naeim and Golnoush Rahimzadeh

Abstract: Labor unions are among the largest institutions in the United States, and their role in regulating employee–employer relations is hard to ignore. Costly efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 (i.e., decreasing economic activity and increasing workplace safety measures), combined with the monopoly and collective voice faces of unions, emphasize the role unions can play in shaping the response of the workforce in coping with COVID-19. We analyze the effect of union size by utilizing state-level data in the United States and by employing a nonlinear probability model and general method of moments estimation. The results suggest new evidence of positive externalities for union employees compared with nonunion employees. We find that a 10% increase in unionization in the United States would lead to around 5% decrease in total cases of COVID-19 100 days after the onset of the virus, controlling for hours of work and differences in union members’ characteristics.

Keywords: COVID-19; labor unions; unionization; work environment

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