Structured Conflict: Changes in Federal and State Labor Laws and Strike Activity, 1950 to 2017

How have state and federal intervention in labor-management relations contributed to the relative level of inequality across regions and over time in the United States? Mark Stelzner, Eric Hoyt and Toushita Ramchurn address this question by looking at how a range of factors--the state's position on right-to-work laws, the state's social equity policies among employees of different racial, ethnic and gender groups, as well as federal adjudication of the National Labor Relations Act--have affected power dynamics within individual firms. They show that the embrace of employers' prerogatives in these policy areas has contributed substantially to the rise in U.S. inequality.  

Abstract

How have state and federal intervention in labor-management relations contributed to the relative level of inequality across regions and overtime in the United States? In this paper, we seek to address this question by looking at how state adoption of right-to-work laws, embracement of social equity among employees of different racial, ethnic, and gender groups, and federal adjudication and administration of the National Labor Relations Act impacted intrafirm power dynamics – power dynamics between labor and management inside a given firm – and thus affected poverty and inequality across states and over time. As we will see, both state and federal embracement of employers’ prerogatives and of racially biased institutions is associated with weaker worker power and thus explains some of the increase in inequality overtime and across regions in the United States.

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