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Negotiating with Labor Under Financial Distress


  • Efraim Benmelech
  • Nittai K. Bergman
  • Ricardo Enriquez


We analyze how firms renegotiate labor contracts to extract concessions from labor. While anecdotal evidence suggests that firms tend to renegotiate down wages in times of financial distress, there is no empirical evidence that documents such renegotiation, its determinants, and its magnitude. This paper attempts to fill this gap. Using a unique data set of airlines that includes detailed information on wages and pension plans we document an empirical link between airline financial distress, pension underfunding, and wage concessions.

Suggested Citation

  • Efraim Benmelech & Nittai K. Bergman & Ricardo Enriquez, 2011. "Negotiating with Labor Under Financial Distress," NBER Working Papers 17192, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17192
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Paul Asquith & Robert Gertner & David Scharfstein, 1994. "Anatomy of Financial Distress: An Examination of Junk-Bond Issuers," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(3), pages 625-658.
    2. Rosett, Joshua G., 1990. "Do union wealth concessions explain takeover premiums? : The evidence on contract wages," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 263-282, September.
    3. Jeffrey R. Brown, 2008. "Guaranteed Trouble: The Economic Effects of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 22(1), pages 177-198, Winter.
    4. Chen, Huafeng Jason & Kacperczyk, Marcin & Ortiz-Molina, Hernán, 2011. "Labor Unions, Operating Flexibility, and the Cost of Equity," Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(01), pages 25-58, March.
    5. Barry T. Hirsch, 1991. "Labor Unions and the Economic Performance of Unions," Books from Upjohn Press, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, number luepf, November.
    6. Baldwin, Carliss Y, 1983. "Productivity and Labor Unions: An Application of the Theory of Self-Enforcing Contracts," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 56(2), pages 155-185, April.
    7. Marianne Bertrand, 2004. "From the Invisible Handshake to the Invisible Hand? How Import Competition Changes the Employment Relationship," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 22(4), pages 723-766, October.
    8. Efraim Benmelech & Nittai K. Bergman, 2008. "Liquidation Values and the Credibility of Financial Contract Renegotiation: Evidence from U.S. Airlines," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 123(4), pages 1635-1677.
    9. Gruber, Jonathan, 1994. "The Incidence of Mandated Maternity Benefits," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 622-641, June.
    10. Stephen G. Bronars & Donald R. Deere, 1991. "The Threat of Unionization, the Use of Debt, and the Preservation of Shareholder Wealth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 106(1), pages 231-254.
    11. Klasa, Sandy & Maxwell, William F. & Ortiz-Molina, Hernán, 2009. "The strategic use of corporate cash holdings in collective bargaining with labor unions," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(3), pages 421-442, June.
    12. Julian Atanassov & E. Han Kim, 2009. "Labor and Corporate Governance: International Evidence from Restructuring Decisions," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 64(1), pages 341-374, February.
    13. Ippolito, Richard A, 1985. "The Economic Function of Underfunded Pension Plans," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 28(3), pages 611-651, October.
    14. Dasgupta, Sudipto & Sengupta, Kunal, 1993. "Sunk Investment, Bargaining and Choice of Capital Structure," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 34(1), pages 203-220, February.
    15. Mitchell A. Petersen, 1992. "Pension Reversions and Worker-Stockholder Wealth Transfers," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(3), pages 1033-1056.
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    Cited by:

    1. Luigi Guiso & Luigi Pistaferri & Fabiano Schivardi, 2013. "Credit within the Firm," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 80(1), pages 211-247.
    2. Tommaso Monacelli & Vincenzo Quadrini & Antonella Trigari, 2011. "Financial Markets and Unemployment," NBER Working Papers 17389, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Andrew Ellul & Marco Pagano, 2017. "Corporate Leverage and Employees’ Rights in Bankruptcy," CSEF Working Papers 472, Centre for Studies in Economics and Finance (CSEF), University of Naples, Italy.
    4. Murillo Campello & Janet Gao & Jiaping Qiu & Yue Zhang, 2017. "Bankruptcy and the Cost of Organized Labor: Evidence from Union Elections," NBER Working Papers 23869, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. repec:wsi:qjfxxx:v:07:y:2017:i:04:n:s2010139217500148 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • G23 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Non-bank Financial Institutions; Financial Instruments; Institutional Investors
    • G32 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Financing Policy; Financial Risk and Risk Management; Capital and Ownership Structure; Value of Firms; Goodwill
    • G33 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Bankruptcy; Liquidation
    • J21 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Force and Employment, Size, and Structure
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials


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