Publication Date

January 2002


[Excerpt] In 2001, a twenty-day sit-in at Harvard University brought the living-wage debate to the forefront of American consciousness. After a six-month study, the Harvard Committee on Employment and Contracting Policies, a 19 member committee of faculty, staff, administrators and students that had been appointed by Harvard’s president as a result of the discussions to end the sit-in, recommended giving raises to the university’s lowest paid employees and relying more on collective bargaining in the future to assure that the wages paid by subcontractors did not undercut local union wage scales. A three-day sit-in at the University of Connecticut that related to the living wage issue also yielded a substantive victory for campus workers. The protesters there generated an almost two-dollar increase in wages, as well as substantial improvement in benefits for many of the university’s workers. Collectively these struggles represent a new battleground in American higher education.

The growth of living wage movements on almost one hundred campuses reflects the large variation in the wages paid to college and university staff across the country. There are many potential explanations for these salary differences, including differences in local cost of living and differences in the resources that the academic institutions have available to pay faculty and staff salaries. One other possible explanation is the influence of staff unions. Previous studies of the impact of unions on salaries in academia have focused on faculty unions and have concluded that faculty unions have increased the salaries of their members relative to the salaries of faculty at academic institutions in which faculty are not covered by collective bargaining agreements by at best a small percentage amount. There have been no studies, however, of the impact of collective bargaining on staff salaries in higher education.

Our paper addresses this issue. After providing some background data on the number of blue-collar and white-collar employees covered by collective bargaining agreements at American higher education institutions, we use data from a 1997-1998 study on the costs of staffing in higher education conducted by the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers (APPA) and other sources to estimate models that explain the variation in academic institutions’ salaries for a number of narrowly defined blue collar and white collar occupational groups that are employed by the academic institutions’ facilities divisions. Of primary interest to us, is the extent to which the salaries of academic staff covered by collective bargaining agreements exceed the salaries of otherwise comparable academic staff that are not covered by such agreements.


Suggested Citation
Klaff, D. B. and Ehrenberg, R. G. (2002). Collective bargaining and staff salaries in American colleges and universities (CHERI Working Paper #21). Retrieved [insert date], from Cornell University, ILR School site:

Required Publisher Statement
Published by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, Cornell University.