Union Commitment

Like many constructs in this field, union commitment was introduced with a measure of the construct. As a corollary of organizational commitment, Michael E. Gordon and colleagues (1980) defined union commitment as a member’s identification with and involvement in a particular union, and operationalized the definition in terms of three related components:

  1. A strong desire to remain a member of the union
  2. A willingness to exert high levels of effort on behalf of the union
  3. A definite belief in and acceptance of the values and goals of the union

Confirmed with factor analysis, a four-factor union commitment scale was developed with the intent of identifying predictors and outcomes of commitment. Research studies using variants of the union commitment scale have continued to the present. Union commitment research is viewed as broadening the interest of unionists in psychological aspects of union life and sparking a new generation of studies by organizational psychologists, drawing on earlier work by Ross Stagner, Hjalmar Rosen, Arthur Kornhauser, Theodore V. Purcell, and other industrial psychologists.

The factors of the union commitment scale were defined and labeled as union loyalty, a member’s pride in being associated with the union and in the union’s ability to satisfy the needs of its members; responsibility to the union, a member’s willingness to fulfill the basic duties of membership to protect the interests of the union; willingness to work for the union, a member’s willingness to expend extra energy in the service of the union above and beyond the call of duty; and belief in unionism, a member’s general belief in the concept of unionism.

Factor Controversy

Factor solutions based on confirmatory analyses have produced a lack of consensus about the underlying dimensionality of the union commitment construct. All the following potentially conflicting interpretations of the nature and structure of the construct have been suggested: The factors are orthogonal (independent) and replicable across samples of nonprofessional and professional workers. The factors are parsimoniously defined by two oblique (nonindependent) factors, one that describes union attitudes and opinions (union loyalty and belief in unionism) and one that depicts pro-union behavioral intentions (i.e., responsibility to the union and willingness to work for the union). The factors are identifiable in an oblique four-factor solution and show stability over time.

Indexes for closeness of fit between a hypothesized factor model and an observed model (i.e., fit indexes) have produced some clarity about the dimensionality of the construct. All the following potentially revealing, albeit disparate, results have been reported: Fit indexes for an oblique four-factor solution are significantly better than one-factor, two-factor, or higher-order factor solutions. Belief in unionism is a methodological (artifactual) factor caused by negatively worded items. Belief in unionism is related to work commitment rather than to union commitment. Belief in unionism is the most stable of the commitment factors and influences union loyalty and responsibility to the union. Fit indexes for an oblique three-factor solution are improved with deletion of belief in unionism items. An oblique three-factor solution based on union loyalty, responsibility to the union, and willingness to work for the union shows that stability of items across factors (measurement invariance) can be assumed between men and women members, and to some extent between longtime and new members, but cannot be assumed between rank-and-file members and stewards. Fit indexes for an oblique three-factor solution are improved with controls for similarity of scores within local unions (with controls for nonindependent observations), highlighting the need to adjust individual-level results by unit-level (contextual) variation.

Predictor-Outcome Models

Models of union commitment have indicated multiple predictors and outcomes of commitment. A sustaining idea is that union commitment is part of a socialization process that begins with union perceptions and ends with union participation. Research studies focusing on socializing influences have identified links from pre-union and early union experiences to general union attitudes and specific union beliefs, from union attitudes and beliefs to union commitment factors, and from commitment factors to union participation. Notable pre-union experiences linked to union attitudes and beliefs among high school and undergraduate students include perceptions of parent’s union attitudes and perceptions of parent’s union participation. Notable early experiences linked to union attitudes and beliefs among new members include perceptions of informational orientation programs and perceptions of stewards’ individual consideration and charismatic leadership.

The results of meta-analyses on models of predictors and outcomes of union commitment are inconclusive. In particular, models based on meta-analytically derived data show fit indexes below acceptable standards. Identification of a best-fitting model based on nested comparison tests (tests that examine whether models are subsets of one another) shows that the relationship between job satisfaction and union commitment is partially mediated by organizational commitment. Union instrumentality (a member’s perception of the impact of the union on wages, benefits, and work conditions that define the employment relationship) as a predictor of union commitment is partially mediated by union attitudes. Moreover, results show that union attitudes are the strongest predictor of union commitment, but the relationship is moderated by type of commitment measure (whether a measure represents one of four commitment factors or overall commitment). Union commitment is a predictor of union participation, but the relationship is also moderated by type of commitment measure.

The results of longitudinal studies with measures of union commitment and union participation at both time 1 and time 2 show that later participation is predicted by early commitment. With an 8-month time lag, union commitment predicts formal union participation (participation in scheduled or structured activities that benefit the union, akin to contracted or in-role behaviors). With a 10-year time lag, union commitment predicts informal union participation (participation in unscheduled or unstructured activities, akin to citizenship or extra-role behaviors). These results do not show reverse and reciprocal relationships (that later commitment is predicted by early participation).

Exchange Theory

How economic and social aspects of exchange theory relate to union commitment, and subsequently to union participation, has prompted both debate and data. Because members pay unions in the form of union dues to benefit themselves economically, union instrumentality should reflect economic aspects of an exchange relationship (in exchange for services rendered, a member feels committed and engages in in-role behaviors like paying union dues). In contrast, perceived union support (a member’s belief that the union values the contribution of and considers the needs and well-being of its members) should reflect social and emotional aspects of an exchange relationship (in exchange for socioemotional support, members feel committed and engage in extra-role behaviors like helping others to file grievances). With union participation as the predictive outcome of union commitment, a union participation model (a service model) suggests that union instrumentality mediates the relationship between perceived union support and union commitment. An organizational support model (an organizing model) suggests that perceived union support mediates the relationship between union instrumentality and union commitment. An alternative third model suggests that union instrumentality and perceived union support are nonindependent predictors of union commitment. To date, with union loyalty and overall union participation (participation not differentiated for in-role and extra-role behaviors) representing commitment and participation in the models, fit indexes based on nonnested comparisons favor a union participation model and suggest an intervention direction for union loyalty aimed at union instrumentality.


  1. Barling, J., Fullagar, C., & Kelloway, E. K. (1992). The union and its members: A psychological approach. New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Bayazit, M., Hammer, T. H., & Wazeter, D. L. (2004). Methodological challenges in union commitment studies. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 738-747.
  3. Fullagar, C. J., Gallagher, D. G., Clark, P. F., & Carroll, A. E. (2004). Union commitment and participation: A 10-year longitudinal study. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 730-737.
  4. Gordon, M. E., Philpot, J. W., Burt, R. E., Thompson, C. A., & Spiller, W. E. (1980). Commitment to the union: Development of a measure and an examination of its correlates. Journal of Applied Psychology, 65, 479-499.
  5. Purcell, T. V. (1960). Blue collar man: Patterns of dual allegiance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  6. Stagner, R., & Rosen, H. (1965). Psychology of union-management relations. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

See also: