Academic journal article Competition Forum

Integrating Strategic Models of Labor Conflict: Strike Leverage and Pattern Bargaining

Academic journal article Competition Forum

Integrating Strategic Models of Labor Conflict: Strike Leverage and Pattern Bargaining

Article excerpt


Industrial and labor relations analyzes the likely outcomes of labor relations conflict using strike leverage and pattern bargaining. When there are differentials between management and unions along dimensions such as centralization and impact, the probable resolution of the impasse can be predicted. Normally, strike leverage models typically assess the microeconomic decisions of individual decision makers, and pattern bargaining models address macro industry dynamics. However these two levels of analysis can be linked to form an integrated, predictive strategic model, which is explored.

Keywords: Industrial and Labor Relations Impasse Strategies, Strike Leverage, Pattern Bargaining


When labor management negotiations completely break down, and negotiations reach the state of impasse, conflicts such as management lockouts and union strikes often result. Industrial and labor relations research offers two conceptual models to understand the nature of these conflicts and their likely outcomes: strike leverage and pattern bargaining. Strike leverage typically assesses the micro-economic decisions of individual managers to understand their priorities and preferences. Organizations, while relatively neglecting union decision dynamics. Pattern bargaining examines the macro-economic implications of impasses across sets of related organizations. These models can be linked. In both cases, when there are differentials between management and union efforts along centralization and impact, the probable outcome are predicted.


Strike leverage assesses the willingness and ability of management and labor to sustain a strike (Katz and Kochan, 2000). Such models typically focus on the micro-economic factors that drive individual actors - managers and their labor unions to reach an impasse and call a strike or lockout. In general, the more strike leverage disputants have, the greater their bargaining power and the longer they are both willing and able to sustain a strike or lockout. As an analytical tool, disparities in strike leverage are reliable predictors of strike outcomes ~ the side with greater strike leverage tends to prevail. Unfortunately, current models of strike leverage are limited both by a focus on management predictors and by a conceptualization more applicable to private versus public sector organizations, as illustrated in Figure One:

The traditional model has several shortcomings. The first set reflects analysis constraints, since management strike leverage focuses on commercial, private sector organizations. Factors such as sales and profitability need redefinition to be relevant for non-profit, public sector enterprises. Since the public sector features higher rates of unionization than the private sector, and since the largest unions in America represent government workers (Fossum, 2002), a strike leverage model which allows analysis of such organizations is needed. The second set of shortcomings centers around the relatively comprehensive treatment of management strike leverage, in comparison with the limited treatment of union strike leverage. A more robust model would acknowledge the importance of both parties. The decision to strike is, after all, made by workers and their agents (Godard, 1992). This model should offer the predictive insights for both union and management.


In contrast, pattern bargaining is a macro-economic concept exploring conflict decisions among groups of actors. Instead of individually negotiating a series of contracts for each organization, one negotiation is selected as a test case that will set precedents and patterns that other subsequent contracts will follow (Fossum, 2002). Pattern bargaining offers significant efficiencies over other bargaining models, in that hard negotiation and potential labor conflict is confined to an initial negotiation, instead of being repeated in every subsequent negotiation. …

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