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Disintegrating Democracy at Work

Disintegrating Democracy at Work: Labor Unions and the Future of Good Jobs in the Service Economy

Virginia Doellgast
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Disintegrating Democracy at Work
    Book Description:

    The shift from manufacturing- to service-based economies has often been accompanied by the expansion of low-wage and insecure employment. Many consider the effects of this shift inevitable. In Disintegrating Democracy at Work, Virginia Doellgast contends that high pay and good working conditions are possible even for marginal service jobs. This outcome, however, depends on strong unions and encompassing collective bargaining institutions, which are necessary to give workers a voice in the decisions that affect the design of their jobs and the distribution of productivity gains.

    Doellgast's conclusions are based on a comparative study of the changes that occurred in the organization of call center jobs in the United States and Germany following the liberalization of telecommunications markets. Based on survey data and interviews with workers, managers, and union representatives, she found that German managers more often took the "high road" than those in the United States, investing in skills and giving employees more control over their work. Doellgast traces the difference to stronger institutional supports for workplace democracy in Germany. However, these democratic structures were increasingly precarious, as managers in both countries used outsourcing strategies to move jobs to workplaces with lower pay and weaker or no union representation. Doellgast's comparative findings show the importance of policy choices in closing off these escape routes, promoting broad access to good jobs in expanding service industries.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6397-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-27)

    Ronald Dore begins his book British Factory, Japanese Factory with the statement, “Factories look very much alike anywhere . . .” One could easily make the same observation about call centers, often described as the assembly lines of the information age.¹ Call center agents use the same tools regardless of what country they are in or task they are performing: a headset, a computer, perhaps reference files and a list of phone numbers. Most call centers are located in large rooms divided into many small cubicles, with slightly larger desks or offices for team leaders and managers. Signs of varying...

  7. 2 Changes in Markets and Collective Bargaining
    (pp. 28-53)

    In the 1990s, telecommunications markets were transformed by a range of new technologies and by legislation aimed at easing the entry of new competitors.¹ The industry’s history as a regulated monopoly left a legacy of strong unions and public sector involvement. However, former monopolists initially pursued different strategies as they adjusted to more competitive markets. In the United States, AT&T and the regional Bells aggressively cut costs and downsized. Meanwhile, unions and works councils at Deutsche Telekom in Germany successfully slowed deregulation, promoted up-skilling, and eased worker displacement.

    The U.S. and German telecommunications markets looked more similar by the 2000s....

  8. 3 Using Power in the Workplace
    (pp. 54-121)

    This chapter compares strategies by U.S. and German telecommunications firms and their subcontractors to reorganize call center jobs, during a period when they were under considerable pressure from declining prices and increasingly competitive markets. To do this, I analyze changes in employment practices, and the reasons for these changes, in eight case study firms. These are organized in four matched pairs: (1) two fixed-line telecommunications companies with strong unions (“U.S. Telecom” [a former RBOC] and Deutsche Telecom); (2) two new mobile companies with recent union agreements (“U.S. Mobile” and “German Mobile”); (3) two large call center subcontractors that contract with...

  9. 4 Losing Power in the Networked Firm
    (pp. 122-179)

    The case studies in chapter 3 compared the employment systems adopted by U.S. and German telecommunications call centers and their subcontractors. In this chapter, I shift the focus from work reorganization to organizational restructuring. Organizational restructuring is defined as the reconfiguration of an organization’s administrative structure (McKinley and Scherer 2000; Bowman and Singh 1993). It can include changes in the boundaries of organizations, such as the externalization of work through subcontracting and the internalization of new business units through insourcing. Restructuring also includes changes to the structure of the firm that affect job and department classifications, such as decentralization or...

  10. 5 Broadening the Comparison
    (pp. 180-209)

    The previous chapters discussed three related trends in the U.S. and German telecommunications industries: changes in markets and industrial relations, work reorganization and employment systems, and organizational restructuring. In this chapter, I ask how generalizable these case study findings are to a broader set of workplaces and countries. First, I compare collective bargaining institutions, employment practices, and pay inequality in U.S. and German call centers, using data from matched establishment-level surveys of call centers.¹ Similar surveys were administered in each country between 2003 and 2004, as part of the Global Call Center Project, a twenty-country study of management practices and...

  11. 6 Conclusions
    (pp. 210-220)

    Call centers are often described as the service sector equivalent of Taylorist factories, known for pervasive monitoring and work intensification. This book has shown that poor job quality is not universal in these workplaces. At a time when U.S. telecommunications firms were rationalizing and deskilling their frontline service and sales jobs, similar German firms were investing in skills and expanding worker discretion. These high-involvement employment models were not adopted by employers who sought to gain competitive advantage in high-end, high-quality market segments. Instead, worker representatives used their participation rights and bargaining power to negotiate constraints on unilateral management, which in...

  12. APPENDIX A: Interviews conducted in the United States and Germany (2002–5)
    (pp. 221-221)
  13. APPENDIX B: Organizational characteristics and employment practices by country, in-house and outsourced centers
    (pp. 222-222)
  14. APPENDIX C: Organizational characteristics and employment practices by collective bargaining arrangements, United States and Germany
    (pp. 223-224)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 225-228)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 229-240)
  17. Index
    (pp. 241-248)