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Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:Vanderbilt University
  • Larry W Isaac
  • (615) 875-6070
  • Anna Jacobs
Award Date:04/29/2016
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 11,995
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 11,995
  • FY 2016=$11,995
Start Date:05/01/2016
End Date:04/30/2017
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.075
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:Doctoral Dissertation Research: Explaining the Mechanisms of Collective Bargaining Legislative Outcomes at the State-Level
Federal Award ID Number:1602606
DUNS ID:965717143
Parent DUNS ID:004413456
Program Officer:
  • Joseph Whitmeyer
  • (703) 292-7808

Awardee Location

Street:Sponsored Programs Administratio
Awardee Cong. District:05

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:Vanderbilt University
Street:1400 18th Avenue South
Cong. District:05

Abstract at Time of Award

SES-1602606 Larry Isaac Anna Jacobs Vanderbilt University One manifestation of class contention today is the revival in advocacy for Right-to-Work (RTW) legislation in the last decade. In 2014 alone, there were 60 proposed RTW bills in 27 states, and the passage of RTW laws in Michigan (2012) and Wisconsin (2014) has led many to question how regressive labor laws could be passed in heavily unionized states. Ultimately the question being asked is embedded in the larger question of who or what influences the policies enacted by the state? Within the field of sociology, there are four distinct theories that attempt to answer this general question: (1) pluralism, (2) elite theory, (3) instrumentalist-Marxism, and (4) state-centered institutionalism. The increasingly heated battle between labor and business interests in state legislatures provides a perfect case for testing the relative merit of four dominant sociological theories of power. The purpose of this dissertation is to answer the following questions: (1) What factors account for the variation in state legislators? actions? (2) What factors account for the fate of proposed collective bargaining bills in state legislatures? This study examines the proposal and passage of all state-level collective bargaining bills during the 2011-2012 legislative session. The analysis combines five unique datasets. The first dataset consists of data on every bill related to collective bargaining proposed among all state legislatures in the 2011-2012 legislative session (N=2,068). The second has data on the financial contributions to state-level elections in 2008 and 2010. The third has information on state and constituent characteristics from the 2010 census. The fourth contains data on state level institutional differences, such as differences in rules about vetoing, majority rule, and committee appointment procedures. The fifth dataset will collect publicly available data on the corporate business ties of all state legislators in 2012. These data will be used to study two outcomes: First, by using each legislator as a unit of analysis, the investigator plans to explain variation in legislators? bill proposals. Second, by using each proposed bill as the unit of analysis, generalized ordered logistic regression models will predict the outcome of each bill: (1) proposed, (2) failed in first chamber, (2) failed in second chamber, (3) vetoed, or (4) passed into legislation. Both analyses will analyze all four theoretical models.

Project Outcomes Report


This Project Outcomes Report for the General Public is displayed verbatim as submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI) for this award. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Report are those of the PI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation; NSF has not approved or endorsed its content.

Goals of Project. The major goals of this project were to answer the following questions: (1) What factors account for the variation in state legislators’ proposal of anti-labor legislation? and (2) What factors account for the fate of proposed collective bargaining bills in state legislatures? This study examined the proposal and passage of all state-level collective bargaining bills during the 2012 legislative session.


Data Collection. Using funding from the NSF DDRI, I hired a team of undergraduate research assistants to collect information on all state legislators in office in 2012 (N=7,143).  For each legislator, research assistants collected the following information: (1) year first elected to office, (2) previous occupation, (3) highest degree attained, (4) universities attended, (5) notable family members, (6) chamber of commerce membership, (7) ties to banks, (8) committees assigned to in 2012, (9) legislative leadership positions, (10) business associations, and (11) whether they sat on a board of directors for any Fortune 500 corporation. Given the budgetary and time constraints of this project, I am pleased to report that my research assistants were able to complete 80 percent of the proposed data collection (5,752 legislators). The only obstacles to completing the dataset were budget and time. I will be hiring new research assistants this fall to complete data collection.


Key Results of Study. There are three key preliminary findings to this study. First, I found that among state legislators in office during 2012, those who received campaign donations from elite-networked corporations proposed more anti-labor bills and fewer pro-labor bills. Second, I found that the effect of corporate elite campaign donations was stronger in pro-labor states. Further, elite corporations donate more money, more often to legislators in pro-labor states than legislators in anti-labor and neutral states. Taken together, these results suggest a strategic orientation on the part of the corporate elite. Third, I found that the relationship between corporate donations and legislative behavior extends to political outcomes: anti-labor bills proposed in states that received more corporate money were more likely to be signed into law. 


Training and Professional Development. This project was able to provide important training to undergraduate sociology majors who were interested in pursuing research careers. Each student collected and cleaned empirical data, learned more about legislative processes in America, and collaborated as a research team. This project also funded travel to the Pacific Sociological Association Annual meeting in Portland, Oregon, where I presented preliminary results of this research.


Implications for Policy. This research has important policy implications. For example, recent research suggests that it is the opinions and preferences of the corporate elite that drive policy in the US, rather than broad public opinion (see Gilens and Page 2014). This is despite the fact that the public is generally distrusting of large corporations and frustrated with corporate influence on politics. The public’s frustration is especially evident in the overwhelming popular support for politicians like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as movements such as Occupy Wall Street. The fact that the public is concerned with corporate power, yet nothing seems to be done, can be unsettling. If campaign finance reforms are going to be made, they require a better understanding of the exact mechanisms of corporate influence on legislative behavior. This work explicates the key mechanisms. The process begins, at least in part, with corporate elite investment in legislative campaigns.


Implications for Economic Inequality. My research also has important implications for economic inequality more broadly. We live in a time where economic inequality is the highest it has ever been since the early twentieth century, and much of this can be attributed to a weakened labor movement. Labor unions act as a buffer to inequality by bringing workers together, ensuring fair treatment, raising wages through collective bargaining, pooling resources, and threatening capital with collective action. One of the main consequences of a weakened labor movement is increased economic inequality. The continued decline in unions has vast implications for the working poor in the US.  Taken together, this means that the corporate elite’s influence on labor legislation will not only diminish the strength of unions and the US labor movement, but will also serve to produce inequality as a whole. By limiting the power of organized labor, these enacted anti-labor laws will perpetuate—and perhaps exacerbate—the trend of increased economic inequality in the US, an era that Bartels (2008) and others call the “New Gilded Age.”



Last Modified: 05/25/2017
Modified by: Anna Jacobs

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