The Use of Replacement Workers in Union Contract Negotiations: The U.S. Experience, 1980–1989

Peter Cramton and Joseph S. Tracy , Journal of Labor Economics, 16:4, 667-701 16(4) , 667-701 , October 1998.

It is argued in many circles that a structural change occurred in U.S. collective bargaining in the 1980s. Strike incidence declined, dispute incidence increased, and the composition of disputes shifted away from strikes and toward holdouts. We investigate the extent to which the hiring of replacement workers can account for these changes. For a sample of over 300 major strikes since 1980, we estimate the likelihood of replacements being hired. We find that the risk of replacement is lower for bargaining units with more experienced workers, and declines during tight labor markets. The composition of disputes shifts away from strikes as the predicted risk of replacement increases. In addition, the overall level of disputes increases as a result of the shift in the composition of disputes. Based on our estimates reducing the predicted replacement risk faced by bargaining units to the pre-1982 levels would have lead to a reduction in the dispute incidence by around 5 percentage points, an increase in the fraction of disputes involving a strike by around 4 percentage points, and an increase in the strike incidence by around 0.8 percentage points.

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