Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2021-01-05

Workplace voice and civic engagement: what theory and data tell us about unions and their relationship to the democratic process

Document type Article
Author Gomez, Rafael
Author Bryson, Alex
Author Willman, Paul
Author Kretschmer, Tobias
Journal Osgoode Hall Law Journal
Volume 50
Date 2013
Pages 965-998


We offer an explanation for the phenomenon of declining democratic engagement by assuming that what happens at work is the primary driver of what occurs outside of the workplace. If workers are exposed to the formalities of collective bargaining and union representation, they also perhaps increase their attachment to, and willingness to participate in, structures of democratic governance outside of the workplace as well. In order for this argument to hold, one first needs to test whether individual union members are more prone to vote and participate in civil society than non-members: other research refers to this as the union voting premium. We find that the voice effect of unionism on democratic participation is significant and is larger for groups that are significantly under-represented when it comes to voting, namely those with fewer years of education, immigrants, and younger workers. We also discuss the legal implications of these findings.