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

Peter C. Cramton, Joseph S. Tracy
NBER Working Paper No. 5106
Issued in May 1995
NBER Program(s):   LS


It is argued in many circles that a structural change occurred in U.S. collective bargaining in the 1980s. We investigate the extent to which the hiring of replacement workers can account for this change. 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 declines during tight labor markets, and is lower for bargaining units with more experienced workers. We use the predicted replacement risk as an explanatory variable in a model of the union’s choice between the strike and holdout threat. We find that strike usage decreases significantly as the predicted replacement risk increases. We estimate that a ban on the use of replacement workers would have increased strike incidence from 1982-1989 by 3 percentage points, a 30 percent increase.

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

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