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Token Presence or Substantive Participation? A Study of Labor Trustees on Pension Boards
Journal of Labor Research (2011)
  • Anil Verma, University of Toronto
  • Johanna Weststar
Abstract In contrast to their absence from corporate boards in North America, labor
representatives do have a seat on many pension boards. Given the lack of research on the
role of labor participation in these fora, this study reports findings from a survey of labor
trustees. We find that labor trustees make greater contributions to procedure-oriented
processes such as information sharing, rule-making and rule interpretation; and, fewer
contributions to investment-oriented processes such as investment decisions, fund
performance and manager selection. Gender does not seem to matter in explaining
participation in board activities. Accountability in terms of a requirement to report back
to their union did increase labor trustee contribution but only to procedural issues, not
investment issues. Short board tenure, lack of multiple labor seats and lack of training
appear to limit labor trustees’ contribution to investment-based issues. Prior exposure to
pension issues, and longer tenure appear to increase contributions to procedure-based
issues. Exclusionary board dynamics hinder both types of contributions by labor
trustees. These findings suggest that labor trustees do take advantage of their position to
make procedural contributions but they find it hard to expand into newer, non-traditional
roles such as investment-related activities of the Board.

  • labor participation,
  • pension boards,
  • union voice,
  • labor trustees
Publication Date
Winter January 12, 2011
Citation Information
Anil Verma and Johanna Weststar. "Token Presence or Substantive Participation? A Study of Labor Trustees on Pension Boards" Journal of Labor Research Vol. 32 (2011) p. 39 - 60
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