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How Asymmetrically Increasing Joint Strike Costs Need Not Lead to Fewer Strikes

Listed author(s):
  • Pantsios, Archontis L.


    (Liverpool Hope University)

  • Polachek, Solomon


    (Binghamton University, New York)

The "joint costs" model states that the incentive to strike is inversely related to the total costs associated with workers' and firms' strike activities. Not only has this model been tested with mixed results, but also the joint costs model is problematic in explaining several stylized facts in the strike literature because higher strike costs do not always yield a lower incidence of strike activity. This paper illustrates how the joint cost model can yield these counterintuitive results. It shows that strike incidence need not decrease when joint strike costs increase. The innovation is to raise union and firm joint strike costs in an asymmetric way. Increasing a particular side's strike costs necessarily decreases its incentive to strike. However, in response, the other side's incentive can increase, since under a number of circumstances it holds out with a higher probability in order to collect the relatively larger expected rents coming about because the other side's implicit threat point decreases. To illustrate this, we model contract negotiations as a simple one-period game. (No need for more complex repeated games such as attrition since our point is only to show as simply as possible why the joint-costs model yields ambiguous results.) We use standard Hicksian concession curves to derive a payoff matrix. The payoff matrix results in contract negotiations following along the lines of a "game of chicken". The solution to the game yields no one stable pure Nash-equilibrium strategy, but instead a mixed strategy so that choices become probabilistic depending upon union and firm concession curve parameters. The results indicate that increasing either party's strike costs can have ambiguous effects on strike incidence. This ambiguity may explain why higher strike costs need not always lead to fewer strikes, and thus may account for the mixed success observed in studies that empirically test the joint costs model with strike incidence data. Although couched in terms of strikes, the results are equally applicable to other negotiation situations.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 10723.

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Length: 31 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2017
Publication status: forthcoming in: Atlantic Economic Journal
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp10723
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References listed on IDEAS
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  1. Ana Mauleon & Vincent Vannetelbosch, 1999. "Profit sharing and strike activity in Cournot oligopoly," Journal of Economics, Springer, vol. 69(1), pages 19-40, February.
  2. Daphne Nicolitsas, 2000. "Accounting for Strikes: Evidence from UK Manufacturing in the 1980s," LABOUR, CEIS, vol. 14(3), pages 417-440, September.
  3. Dennis R. Maki, 1986. "The Effect of the Cost of Strikes on the Volume of Strike Activity," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 39(4), pages 552-563, July.
  4. Vroman, Susan B, 1989. "A Longitudinal Analysis of Strike Activity in U.S. Manufacturing: 1957-1984," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(4), pages 816-826, September.
  5. Petrakis, Emmanuel & Vlassis, Minas, 2000. "Endogenous scope of bargaining in a union-oligopoly model: when will firms and unions bargain over employment?," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 7(3), pages 261-281, May.
  6. Timothy C. G. Fisher, 1991. "An Empirical Study of the Adverse Selection Model of Strikes," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 24(3), pages 499-516, August.
  7. Reder, Melvin W & Neumann, George R, 1980. "Conflict and Contract: The Case of Strikes," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 88(5), pages 867-886, October.
  8. Cynthia L. Gramm, 1987. "New Measures of the Propensity to Strike during Contract Negotiations, 1971–1980," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 40(3), pages 406-417, April.
  9. John Godard, 2011. "What Has Happened to Strikes?," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 49(2), pages 282-305, June.
  10. Vannetelbosch, Vincent J., 1997. "Wage bargaining with incomplete information in an unionized Cournot oligopoly," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 13(2), pages 353-374, May.
  11. Fernandez, Raquel & Glazer, Jacob, 1991. "Striking for a Bargain between Two Completely Informed Agents," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(1), pages 240-252, March.
  12. Jean-Michel Cousineau & Robert Lacroix, 1986. "Imperfect Information and Strikes: An Analysis of Canadian Experience, 1967–82," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 39(3), pages 377-387, April.
  13. Bruce E. Kaufman & Jorge Martinez-Vazquez, 1988. "Voting for Wage Concessions: The Case of the 1982 GM-UAW Negotiations," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 41(2), pages 183-194, January.
  14. Ashenfelter, Orley & Johnson, George E, 1969. "Bargaining Theory, Trade Unions, and Industrial Strike Activity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 59(1), pages 35-49, March.
  15. Kennan, John & Wilson, Robert, 1989. "Strategic Bargaining Models and Interpretation of Strike Data," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 4(S), pages 87-130, Supplemen.
  16. Sopher, Barry, 1990. "Bargaining and the Joint-Cost Theory of Strikes: An Experimental Study," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 8(1), pages 48-74, January.
  17. Geraghty, Thomas M. & Wiseman, Thomas, 2008. "Wage strikes in 1880s America: A test of the war of attrition model," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 45(4), pages 303-326, September.
  18. Farber, Henry S, 1978. "Bargaining Theory, Wage Outcomes, and the Occurrence of Strikes: An Econometric Analysis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 68(3), pages 262-271, June.
  19. Martin J. Mauro, 1982. "Strikes as a Result of Imperfect Information," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 35(4), pages 522-538, July.
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