Property Rights or Entitlements: How ESOPS Influence what Workers Value about Their Unions

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Since the wrenching plant closings of the 1970s and 1980s, the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) have adopted Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOP) as one way to secure employment. While job retention, where possible, is an unquestionable advantage of ESOPs, what happens to worker self-definitions of their unions when they become owners? More precisely, how does employee ownership affect the workers' traditional commitment to the values of unionism? The objective here is to examine how ownership in America changes how workers interpret, define, and use their unions. To measure the effects of ownership on union identity two propositions were formulated and measured: employee ownership reduces the workers' conception of the union as a countervailing shopfloor power, and employee ownership changes what union workers value about their unions. Tentative findings reveal that there may be sufficient differences between the perceptions of workers in unionized ESOPs and in conventionally owned unionized shops to suggest the potency of ownership as an identity variable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55-83
Number of pages29
JournalLabor Studies Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1998


  • Employee Ownership
  • United Steelworkers of America (USWA)
  • Worker Attitudes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Industrial relations
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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