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Commitment & loyalty to trade unions: revisiting Gordon's & Hirschman's theories.

This article presents an integrated model of the process by which union commitment and union loyalty are developed and maintained by trade unions. The article argues on the need to view commitment and loyalty as two distinct constructs. The objective is to initiate re- conceptualization of the differences between union loyalty and union commitment by revisiting Gordon's Four Factor Theory of Commitment and Hirschman's Exit--Voice Loyalty Theory. The paper finds that union participation is better induced through union loyalty than union commitment. Leadership & Justice theories also provide the justification for treating union commitment and loyalty as unique constructs. The research has implications for the growth and development of union-management relationships in the current context.


The significance of union commitment for organized labor was examined by Gordon et al. (1980) where it has been defined as the extent to which an individual has a desire to retain union membership, exert effort for, and identify with the objectives of his or her union. Gordon and colleagues derived a union commitment scale that empirically yielded four dimensions: union loyalty, belief in unionism, willingness to work for the union, and responsibility to the union. There is general consensus with regard to the definition of union commitment, although the proposed factor structure of the construct has been debated by researchers over the decades.

Union loyalty reflects a sense of shared values, identity and pride in the union (Gordon et al 1980). It is a single construct combining both affective and instrumental dimensions. Union loyalty is beyond mere participation in union activities, as reflected in the factors such as responsibility to the union and willingness to work for the union, highlighted by Gordon's (1980) study. While union commitment is based on self-interest aimed towards fulfillment of one's salient personal goals, union loyalty is towards an entity, either individual or organization and entails an ideological underpinning such as mission fulfillment and belief in unionism. In fact studies have advocated to divorce instrumental factors from affective factors (Hershizer 1991, Sverke & Kuruvilla 1995) which seems to be one of the reasons why distinction between union satisfaction and loyalty is still quite uncertain in IR research.

Rationale for the Study

Gordon et al (1980) factor analysis produced 4 dimensions: union loyalty (39% of common variance), responsibility to the union (19%), willingness to work for the union (17%), and belief in unionism (13%). These four dimensions have been found to be moderately to strongly correlated with each other (Gordon et al. 1980, Tetrick, Thacker & Fields 1989, Thacker, Fields & Tetrick 1989) which prompted debate as to whether the four dimensions are actually distinct (Friedman & Harvey 1986). However based on conceptual distinctions as well as empirical support for the four dimensions (Gordon et al 1980, Shore et al. 1994, Tetrick et al. 1989, Thacker et al. 1989), it is postulated that these four dimensions are distinct concepts that are related to each other. In fact loyalty in the aforesaid studies was found to be inconsistent with willingness to work, responsibility to union and belief in unionism. There is also simultaneously general acceptance among some scholars that loyalty is the single best indicator of union commitment (Bamberger et al. 1999, Reed et al. 1994), Therefore the question arises whether loyalty needs to be treated as a separate construct, or a factor of commitment.

Most studies are confined to the antecedents and consequences of loyalty (Fullagar & Barling 1987, 1989, Gordon et al. 1980, Thacker, Fields& Tetrick 1989). Moreover union loyalty has more often been studied in the context of dual loyalty & dual commitment rather than as a distinct construct, necessitating an examination. In a search on Ebsco http:// on journal articles between 1980 till date, there were 87 articles on union loyalty& 395 articles on union commitment, indicating that union commitment construct like its counterpart, organizational commitment/company commitment is 3 times more heavily researched than its sub-dimension union loyalty. The literature on union commitment is certainly more developed than the literature on union loyalty.

In unionized firms, loyalty is best understood in the context of response to an unfair treatment being meted out (Feuillet & Delaney 1993). A major paradigm underlying this thought is Hirschman's (1970) well-known model of exit, voice, and loyalty wherein loyalty is best explained through the behaviour of individuals in the employment relationship and is reflected during the decision to complain about a perceived deteriorated condition one has experienced in an organization, and the decision to remove oneself from that condition. Low loyalty leads to exit and high loyalty results in voice of the grievance. The same may not hold true in cases of fear of reprisals, job satisfaction and prevalence of alternate employment opportunities.

Thus the literature on loyalty proposes that attachment to unions is a combination of several factors. The individual must first be dissatisfied with working conditions (DeCotiis & LeLouarn 1981, Getman, Goldberg & Herman 1976, Kochan 1979, Schriesheim 1978) must view the union as instrumental in alleviating this dissatisfaction (Brett 1980, DeCotiis & LeLouarn 1981, Youngblood et al 1984) and must feel that referent others support the notion of unionization as a solution to the dissatisfaction (Brett 1980, Youngblood et al. 1984). As the final gatekeeper to union loyalty, the worker must have a positive attitude toward labour unions in general (Brett 1980, Getman et al. 1976, Herman 1973, Youngblood et al. 1984). These predictors have received empirical support in the development of a unified model of union loyalty (Fullagar& Barling 1989a).

Loyalty was found to be somewhat less stable across time than the other three dimensions of union commitment reflecting the affective nature of loyalty. Affect generally is considered to be more volatile than beliefs and, therefore, would be expected to vary across time depending on recent experiences and may be the most easily influenced of the four dimensions of union commitment. There is a growing literature regarding the impact of contextual factors e.g. structure, role characteristics, organizational climate on employee attitudes and orientations e.g. job motivation, job satisfaction, although there are few significantly informed research on union leadership and justice on union commitment and loyalty. Hence, further examination to delineate the zones of overlap and distinctiveness between commitment and loyalty, may provide added insights into union-management relations. Whether a committed union member would also be loyal would depend upon the leadership and justice climate of the organization. When the climate is less conflictual, e.g in Japan, the zone of overlap between commitment and loyalty, would be larger than in the western samples.


Need for Integrated Model

Union commitment and loyalty is an important subject in industrial relations research in any country, as it reflects union leader's future strategy (Gallagher & Clark 1989). Moreover due to power struggles between union and management, management may discourage union loyalty as it may lead to propensity to strike (Barling, Fullaghar & Kelloway 2001). As many have noted (Gallagher & Clark 1989, Tan & Aryee 2002), attracting and maintaining union membership, along with member involvement, is key to the viability of unions in the future. Recognition of the precarious status of unions has generated considerable research interest in the antecedents and consequences of union commitment, especially around the dimension known as union loyalty. Nissen (2003: 326-27), for example, suggests that "union substitution" may be occurring among firms engaging in positive human resource management and safety practices. He asserts that such practices can negate the perceived need for union influence or protection. Nissen further suggests that if unions were to strengthen their image as part of a social movement seeking to ally themselves with the common good and against corporate domination in people's lives, declines in union loyalty and participation could be reversed.


Various models of the antecedents of union commitment and loyalty have been advanced, with some emphasizing union-related antecedents and others focusing on job and organizational sources of union commitment/loyalty. Gordon and Ladd (1990), Magenau and Martin (1999), Bamberger et al. (1999) also found strong support for the independent role of union instrumentality in predicting union commitment. Union instrumentality refers to "the perceived impact of the union on traditional (e.g., benefits, wages) and nontraditional work (e.g., interesting job conditions" (Gordon et al. 1995: 353)

The Propositions

Most research on union participation is based implicitly or explicitly on frustration-aggression, rational choice, or interactionist theories. Frustration-aggression approaches see union participation as a reaction to frustration, dissatisfaction, or alienation in the work situation. Rational choice theories account for participation from consideration of the individual costs and benefits of participation. Integrationist theories relate participation to the networks and groups inside and/or outside the company in which employees work. Participation is bound to group culture, and the individual decision to participate is influenced by the group to which an individual belongs. It is concluded that frustration-aggression at best provides incomplete explanations of union participation while the other two approaches are more promising. It is suggested that frustration, deprivation, or grievances are filtered through cost-benefit considerations and/or social organization in and outside the workplace.

While researchers have studied forms of union membership, voluntary or involuntary, there are few studies on reasons why people join the union and union commitment. Where union membership is mandatory, members may have negative views on the union. Whereas when people join union out of their own volition, there is greater likelihood of affective commitment and attachment (Newton & Shore 1992). Thus one can extend this logic to say that the reasons for joining the union has an influence on union commitment. Union participation can be either instrumental (self-oriented) or moral (organizationally oriented) (Etzioni 1975). There are three forms of union participation namely, negative, neutral or positive. Negative participation is alienative, neutral is calculative, where you adjust involvement to match inducements, third is moral, wherein, involvement is unaffected by rewards.

Proposition 1a: Voluntary membership of the union invites attachment & affective commitment, whereas compulsory membership invites continuance commitment, wherein the member analyses the cost of association and may leave the union resulting in opposition to the union.

Proposition lb: The motive to join the union would impact union commitment and loyalty such that loyalty to the union would be the highest when the motive to join the union was social (Interactionist Theory of Participation) or reward motive (Rational Choice Theory) and lowest when the motive was goal directed (Frustration-Aggression Theory).

Proposition 1c: The motive to join the union would impact union commitment and loyalty such that commitment to the union would be the highest when the motive to join the union was goal directed (Frustration-Aggression) and the lowest when the motive was social or reward directed (Interactionist Theory or Rational Choice Theory).

Instrumentality literature deals with individual need fulfillment. Alderfer (1974) stated that individual needs fall into three categories: Existence, Relatedness and Growth. Existence needs deals with pay and job security and related to members need for rational choice for participation meaning that the benefit is more than the cost. Relatedness needs of a union member, implying the Interactionist Theory or social mimicking for joining the union requires union to provide a pleasant social environment. Similarly growth needs relates to providing an interesting and challenging job to remove the frustration/aggression cited as reason for joining the union. Kochan (1980) and Kochan, Katz and McKersie (1986) suggest that instrumentality-based approaches are likely to offer unions a higher degree of utility than the more traditional, ideology-based approaches.

Proposition 2: The extent of need fulfillments of the union member will indicate positive union instrumentality and mediates the relationship between reason for joining the union and union commitment and loyalty.

Organizational justice research offers another potential explanation for how union instrumentality might affect union loyalty and, more importantly, may provide a more explicit explanation regarding why instrumentality has a bearing on loyalty. In its simplest form, organizational justice (Greenberg 1987), distinguishes between two perceptions of fairness: distributive justice and procedural justice. Distributive justice concerns employees' perceptions of the fairness of outcomes. Applying this to the union context, union instrumentality refers to employee perceptions of union success in influencing traditional work outcomes such as pay, hours of work, and job safety. The degree to which employees are satisfied with these outcomes of the collective bargaining and negotiation process (i.e., hold favorable assessments of these aspects of union instrumentality) should result in positive feelings toward the union, i.e., union commitment. Procedural organizational justice refers to the judgments people make about the fairness of processes used to make decisions (Sheppard et al. 1992). While historically unions limited their responsibility to "wages, hours, and working conditions," more contemporary unions have emphasized the role of providing union members with individual "voice" and a source of social identity (i.e., unions have sought to have influence in other spheres). Examples of providing opportunities for individual voice and identity, and thus procedural justice, might include formation or maintenance of effective grievance procedures and strong communication channels with national union leaders. Frequent communication between union leaders and rank-and-file members also serves to enhance social identity with the union. Favorable assessments of the grievance system and communication with national union leaders by union members (i.e., positive assessments of these aspects of union instrumentality) should result in strong union loyalty.

Both distributive and procedural justice is important aspects of organizational justice and both have been shown to predict employee attitudes in a wide range of employment contexts (Ambrose & Kulim 1999). Conceptualizing union instrumentality in an organizational justice framework leads us to predict that instrumentality perceptions linked to distributive justice (i.e., perceptions of outcome-based concerns such as pay, hours of work, and safe working conditions) and instrumentality perceptions linked to procedural justice (i.e., perceptions of process-outcomes such as the effectiveness of the grievance system and quality of communication within the union) are important determinants of union loyalty.


Future research on the relationship between union loyalty and the degree to which employees view such treatment as fair or unfair may be recommended.

Proposition 3: Distributive justice leads to union commitment, whereas procedural justice" leads to union loyalty. The strength of the impact of the forms of justice on commitment & loyalty will be governed through impact on union instrumentality and union voice.

Transformational leaders increase union-supportive behavior because they foster a covenantal relationship between the union and the union member. It seems likely that a covenantal relationship between members and their union may be fostered through transformational leadership (Skarlicki & Latham 1996). According to Van Dyne et al. (1994: 769), "a covenantal relationship is based on commitment to the welfare of both parties to the exchange and is also based upon values." Thus, a covenant is a mutual commitment construct based upon common values.

Study of union commitment and loyalty presupposes that the union member displays behaviors that would reveal his allegiance to the union. Seldom do we observe it from the actor/ leader side, e.g. what types of union leader behavior would invite commitment and loyalty. More specifically from the justice angle, what kinds of commitment and loyalty would emerge with respect to union leaders who are perceived to be fair vis a vis an unfair leader? Would there be a corelation between leadership styles and behaviors and different forms of union commitment and loyalty? Do diligent, hardworking union members invite fair treatment on the part of the leaders?

The distinction has been made between transformational and transactional leaders (Bass 1985, Burns 1978, Downtown 1973). Transactional leadership is not as applicable to the union setting as transformational leadership as it relies heavily on the notion of equitable exchange in which the leader provides rewards in exchange for compliance. In the union, the use of reward power (French & Raven 1959) is not as prevalent as in employing organizations. Consequently, greater reliance must be placed on the use of transformational leadership to gain strong personal identification with the goals and objectives of the union, to get members to transcend their own self-interests and become motivated to do more than originally expected for the union, and to share the ideology of organized labour. Transformational leadership has been credited with performance beyond expectations in settings other than the corporate one (Bass 1985, Hater & Bass 1988). The three factors which have been found to characterize transformational leadership are (a) charisma, whereby the leader would instill a sense of pride in the union and transmit a sense of mission of the union; (b) individual consideration, which would be reflected in the stimulation of learning experiences, provision of a climate conducive of socialization, and treatment of each apprentice as an individual; and (c) intellectual stimulation, whereby the union leader would be perceived as intellectually innovative and stimulating, providing the apprentice with new ways of looking at problems. The proposed model suggested that as both (a) pride in the union and identification with the goals of the union, and (b) a willingness to exert extra effort on behalf of the union, are core dimensions of union commitment (Gordon et al, 1980, Ladd et al. 1982), transformational leadership would be conducive to the development of loyalty to the union. Furthermore, the factors associated with transformational leadership would facilitate the socialization process and, consistent with the attitude-change process outlined by Kelman (1958), foster positive attitudes toward organized labour. Therefore union leaders, who look upon their role as focusing on obtaining tangible benefits alone, may have problems in difficult economic times.

Proposition 4: The union leader's . leadership styles would lead to union commitment and loyalty such that transactional leadership styles lead to union commitment and transformational leadership styles would foster union loyalty.

Limitations implications

The model proposed in the paper seems more relevant in an adversarial union-management climate than a conducive one. The distinction may seem irrelevant in an organization where management is more progressive and believes in inclusive leadership. However, it is held that decline in union membership, international competition, and adverse economic conditions may be contributing to the evolution of new union-management relationships where the relative importance of procedural justice, as suggested by these findings, may take on added importance. Contemporary union employees may be looking to their leaders to move beyond long-standing adversarial relations with employers to forge more partnerships between labour and management. Successful formation of such models, with a greater emphasis on procedural justice matters, may serve to enhance union loyalty. Fiorito's (2002) assesses that positive human resource management practices are contributing to the declining rate of unionization and Rubenstein's (2002) asserts that unions must stop maintaining a "job control" orientation and become a "valued added" component in corporate functioning to sustain its relevance.

Transformational leaders increase union-supportive behavior because they foster a covenantal relationship between the union and the union member. In their research examining organizational citizenship behavior, Van Dyne et al. (1994) used transformational leadership, organizational identification, and commitment to espouse distinction between union commitment and loyalty.

In a covenantal relationship, each party has "to sacrifice their own self-interests to promote super-ordinate goals" (Barnett& Schubert 2002: 280), having implications on loyalty and commitment.

Discussion& Conclusions

First, as Iverson and Kuruvilla (1995) posited, organizational commitment mediated the effect of job satisfaction on union commitment. Perhaps the most significant developments in commitment theory over the past two decades have been the recognition that commitment (a) can take different forms (e.g., Becker & Billings 1993, Jaros et al 1993, Meyer & Allen 1991, O'Reilly & Chatman 1986) and (b) can be directed towards various targets, or foci (e.g. Becker et al. 1996, Cohen 2003, Reichers 1985).Common to all, they argued, were the belief that commitment binds an individual to an organization and there by reduces the likelihood of turnover. The concepts of union commitment and its major constituent component, union loyalty, have received growing attention in recent years. Commitment to the union is viewed as crucial in determining the effectiveness of labour organizations in imposing sanctions against employers and in consolidating their bargaining effectiveness (Fullagar & Barling 1987, Gordon & Burt 1981). Most of the research has aimed at establishing the construct validity and stability of Gordon et al. (1980) initial operationalization of union commitment (Friedman & Harvey 1986, Fullagar 1986, Ladd et al. 1982, Thacker, Fields & Tetrick 1989). However, some effort has also been directed at establishing a model of union loyalty which attempts to outline some of the antecedents and consequences of attachment to labour organizations (Fullagar & Barling 1987, 1989a).

Our results indicate that viewing union instrumentality as a reflection of a purely economic exchange of negotiation' elements (i.e., distributive justice) is insufficient in terms of identifying the antecedents of union loyalty. Inclusion of process-based elements based on procedural justice constructs may prove beneficial. This paper suggests that in a comparative sense, procedural antecedents were a better predictor of union loyalty. While future research is needed to substantiate the utility of procedural justice ideas as antecedents of union loyalty, the future of this perspective seems promising. Union commitment, and in particular union loyalty, remains an important issue in understanding and managing union-management relationships. Given that union loyalty is a well-established predictor of union participation (Barling et al. 1992), a clearer understanding regarding what motivates union loyalty may be necessary for union survival. Continued reliance by unions on outcomes such as satisfaction with pay, safety may spell further declines in union membership. Given our results, to the degree that organizations rely on their human resources as a source of competitive advantage (O'Reilly & Pfeiffer 2000),unions may find themselves increasingly irrelevant to employees. Efforts aimed at tapping into the talents of employees, efforts that include employee empowerment, participation in decision making, and increased access to and communication with company leaders may accelerate the substitution effect described by Nissan (2003). Unions cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and allow organizations to usurp the process based concerns of union members. All organizations are dependent on member loyalty to function effectively and efficiently, and unions are no exception.

The paper critiques the theories of Hirschman and Gordon, who see loyalty as a moderator between exit and voice or loyalty is seen as one of the factors of the four factor theory of union commitment. It places an alternate integrated model of union commitment and loyalty that argues for treating union commitment and loyalty as unique constructs based on their distinct impact/influence upon variables based on justice and leadership literature. From a practical perspective, such a model may offer unions the opportunity to benefit from research by providing mechanisms for improving member loyalty.


The author would like to thank Prof. Santanu Sarkar (XLRI-Jamshedpur) for his valuable guidance and comments on the paper.


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Sushmita Srivastava is an HR professional in the area of Learning & Development at Tata Steel. She is currently pursuing her Fellow Program in Management at XLRI, Jamshedpur. E-mail:sushmita.
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Author:Srivastava, Sushmita
Publication:Indian Journal of Industrial Relations
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Date:Oct 1, 2011
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