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Labor Unions Clobber Stocks

Speaking to Michigan conservatives ahead of Tuesday’s primary vote, Mitt Romney placed much of the blame for the 2009 bankruptcy of Chrysler and General motors on the United Auto Workers union, saying it made excessive demands.

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Republicans and Democrats may have different beliefs on the matter. But stock investors should put politics aside and take a cue from Mr. Romney’s private equity savvy. Unions and investor returns often don’t mix well, and a new study measures the relationship with striking results.

Between 1961 and 1999, the average company that elected a union went on to lose more than $40,000 in stock market value for each unionized worker over two years. These losses weren’t priced in immediately; on average, they occurred over a period of about 15 months.  Losses were largest for firms with the most decisive union wins. The study was performed by David Lee at Princeton and Alexandre Mas at the University of California and a paper describing the results was published this month in The Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Stock investors who bought shares of companies at the time of unionization typically underperformed the market by 10 to 14 percentage points over two years.

Of course, the mission of labor unions is to secure more pay and benefits and better conditions for workers, not to enrich investors. The study authors note that much of the decreased stock value for unionized firms indeed came from a transfer of wealth to workers, but also that some–about one out of each four dollars–was lost to inefficiencies created by the unions.

The negative returns are large enough, and slow enough, to raise the question of whether stock investors can profit from betting against union companies. Use caution. Short-selling, or betting against stocks, carries large risks.  Union affiliation is also a difficult thing to measure, and it’s one of many factors affecting stock performance.

For example, Caterpillar has union and nonunion workers. Its shares have multiplied four times in value in a decade on a worldwide boom in construction. Most of its job growth in recent years has been overseas.

A recent exception: When union workers in Ontario refused a pay cut and went on strike, Caterpillar announced this month it would move the operation to Indiana. That state recently became the 23rd to enact “right to work” legislation, which bars unions from collecting fees from workers who don’t wish to join.

There’s another hurdle facing investors who wish to bet against union shares. The supply of them is shrinking.  Union membership as a percentage of the U.S. workforce has slid from more than 30% in the 1950 to around 20% in the early 1980s, and to under 12% last year.

For private companies, the union membership rate is less than 7%. For government workers it is 37%.

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    • Former union worker.New York is not a right to work state.Forced
      to join racket controlled union.Work rules finally put Company
      under.
      To all of you out there that actually believe that todays unions
      are in the best interest of workers, WAKE UP!
      Unions today are the biggest extortion racket in the history of
      the world.
      Union controlled pension funds.Looted by the mob for years and
      soon to be the next bubble to burst.
      P.S.
      To all present union members.Don’t even think of trying to look
      into the status of and management of your pension fund.Watch how
      fast you could all of a sudden become unemployed and lose your
      hopitalization benefits when you will need it the most.

    • What is ironic about the anti-union sentiment is a lot of it is coming from retired people and politicians most of whom are collecting a pension. Where I’m from, in PA, US steel was a big booming industry whose unionized workers did very well in the post baby boom era. Many of them were able to retire early and collect pensions and medical benefits after retiring. They certainly did much better than public school employees did back then and there retirement benefits were much better than the current pensions of today. Seems very hypocritical to me. If you want to attract high quality public sector workers you can do it through higher salaries or through the promise of a pension in exchange for less competitive salaries than those salaries that could be gotten in the private sector. Remember “You get what you pay for”.

    • Labor Unions Clobber Stocks read more m a k e c a s h 4 . c o m

    • Unions suck. Public sector unions are sucking the life blood out of states and municipalities. I am sick of funding your pensions. Save for your own damn retirement and stop taxing the hell out of me to retire at 50!!!!

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