Trade union institutions and inequality of work and income

Project outline


This project focuses on trade unions and collective bargaining institutions. It analyses how and why trade unions relate to precarious workers and outsiders, as well as seeking to show how this in turns shapes inequality across European countries. 


Benassi, C. and Vlandas, T. (2021) “Trade unions, bargaining coverage and low pay: a multilevel test of institutional effects on low-pay risk in Germany”, Work, Employment and Society. [PDF]

Employment relations scholars argue that industrial relations institutions reduce low pay among the workforce, while the insider-outsider literature claims that unions contribute to increase the low-pay risk among non-union members. This article tests these expectations by distinguishing, respectively, between the individual effect of being a union member or covered by collective agreements and the sectoral effect of strong trade unions or encompassing collective agreements. Findings from multilevel logistic regression analyses of the German Socio-Economic Panel reveal that unions and bargaining coverage have distinct effects at individual and sectoral level. The analysis of their cross-level interactions provides partial support to both the insider-outsider approach, since non-union members are more exposed to the risk of low pay in highly unionised sectors, and to the power resource perspectives, since the probability of being in low pay in sectors with encompassing collective agreements decreases also for those workers who are not covered by them. 

Vlandas, T. (2016) “Coordination, Inclusiveness and Wage Inequality between Median and Bottom Income Workers” Comparative European Politics [PDF]

What explains cross-national variation in wage inequality? Research in comparative political economy stresses the importance of the welfare state and wage coordination in reducing not only disposable income inequality but also gross earnings inequality. However, the cross-national variation in gross earnings inequality between median-and low-income workers is at odds with this conventional wisdom: the German coordinated market economy is now moreunequal in this type of inequality than the United Kingdom, a liberal market economy. To solve this puzzle, I argue that non-inclusive coordination benefits median but not bottom-income workers and is as a result associated with higher rather than lower –wage inequality. I find support for this argument using a large N quantitative analysis of wage inequality in a panel of Western European countries. Results are robust to the inclusion of numerous controls, country fixed effects, and also hold in a larger sample of OECD countries. Taken together these findings force us to reconsider the relationship between coordination and wage inequality at the bottom of the income distribution. Comparative European Politics advance online publication, 23 May 2016; doi:10.1057/cep.2016.25

Benassi, C. and Vlandas, T. (2016) “Union inclusiveness and temporary agency workers: The role of power resources and union ideology” European Journal of Industrial Relations [PDF]

This article investigates the determinants of union inclusiveness towards agency workers in Western Europe, using an index which combines unionization rates with dimensions of collective agreements covering agency workers. Using fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis, we identify two combinations of conditions leading to inclusiveness: the ‘Northern path’ includes high union  density,  high  bargaining  coverage  and  high  union  authority,  and  is  consistent  with  the  power resources approach. The ‘Southern path’ combines high union authority, high bargaining coverage, statutory regulations of agency work and working-class orientation, showing that ideology rather than institutional incentives shapes union strategies towards the marginal workforce.