My research is about power, discrimination, technology and globalization. My teaching is employment relations (ER), negotiation and conflict management, and global and comparative ER.
What’s left of me likes art, skiing, reading, and hanging out with the fam. The below is a statement about my research.
Power in the employment relationship
I worked in HR for 5 years, for two years in India, and then spent 5 years in graduate school trying to study anything but what I already knew: the imbalance of power between firms and workers is extremely one-sided, and technology and globalization are increasing employer’s power. My research is all about power in the employment relationship. I combine my interest in power with research on technology workers, technology impacts on workers, and diversity and discrimination.
Workers are keenly attuned to power imbalances at work, and many intuitively sense that an excess of employer power creates disharmony, inequalities, and injustices. Yet in management and business, it is often said that if something isn’t measured, it can’t be improved. When it comes to power imbalances between an employer and an employee, social scientists across disciplines have long held that firms hold power over workers.
- How can independent observers know an employer has power over workers, how much power does an employer have, and what are the wage and working conditions effects of that power?
These questions have driven my research agenda, which focuses on causes and consequences of power imbalances between employers and workers. Like any phenomena-driven research question, there is a great deal of knowledge spread across academic disciplines. As an Employment Relations (ER) scholar who has researched power, control, and discrimination, I have studied different contexts and under different disciplinary banners, focusing on guest worker programs, while also expanding my research agenda to incorporate analysis of topics of control in the gig economy, and employment discrimination.
I have studied organizational control in the gig economy from an organizational behavior and psychological perspective. Most of my research involves studying monopsony, or the economics of imperfect labor markets.
In the economics literature, labor markets are often modeled as competitive: workers’ wages are set by a market, and are equal to their productivity. In the 1930s, Joan Robinson modeled employer power to set wages, and coined the term monopsony to refer to the condition where firms hold market power over workers. A key insight is that factors that make it challenging for employees to quit bad employers give employers power. Since the publication of Alan Manning’s Monopsony in Motion, there has been a revival of interest in monopsony, and the emergence of a large empirical literature that measures firm power to suppress wages, and the gap between worker’s income and potential income. Labor markets characterized by power imbalances depress workers’ wages and working conditions, and offer an explanation for discrimination on the basis of national origin, race, gender, and other categories.
Guest Worker Program Research
In the H-1B guest worker program that allows firms to sponsor workers to work in the U.S., large Information Technology firms have (on average) the power to pay their computer professionals 30% less than their worth to the firm. This result can be found in my peer-reviewed publication Inter-firm mobility and return migration patterns of skilled guest workers. This study rejects claims that these guest workers are indentured servants, but also found substantial levels of employer power, and highlights that guest workers face substantial barriers to job mobility. The study also reports that economic conditions change the degree of power firms have, such that labor markets with higher unemployment rates have greater firm power.
In Monopsony Power and Guest Worker Programs, my research examined anti-trust issues in the guest worker programs in the United States, including the H-1B, as well as the H-2A agricultural and H-2B seasonal guest worker programs. My research found high levels of employer concentration in each program, and reviews evidence in the legal record that employers of guest workers have at times engaged in collusive behavior to set wages. For the H-1B visa, the paper finds that employers in the least competitive labor markets, those with only one firm employing H-1B guest workers, can pay H-1B workers 47% less than their worth to the firm. That paper also found that because of prevailing wage regulations and labor standards, firms cannot use the full extent of their power.
Do all firms use the power they have and squeeze profit by paying workers less than their worth? In a word, no, as demonstrated in H‐1B and L‐1 visa‐sponsored guest workers in the USA: An analysis of the strategic impact of Indian and other firms. HR strategy at firms can broadly be split into innovation and exploitation strategies. Innovation strategies rely on innovation and adopt a set of “high road” employment practices to increase profits. This research reports on how different types of institutions employ guest workers for different reasons. Universities and semiconductor firms increase their research expenditures and patent more while sponsoring guest workers. “Low road” firms, on the other hand, use their power to pay workers less in order to increase profits. Software and hardware firms increase their labor productivity in conjunction with sponsoring guest workers. What creates imbalances of power?
In the economics of monopsony, power and exploitation of workers arises from frictions in the labor market that make it difficult for workers to quit bad employers. A weak labor market with high levels of unemployment reduces opportunities to quit, and as discussed above, can increase firm power. Weak labor markets in the U.S. are also likely responsible for the remarkable fact that the decline in migration to the U.S. since 2000 was the greatest of any period in U.S. history, as was reported in 21st Century Slowdown: The Historic Nature of Recent Declines in the Growth of the Immigrant Population in the United States.
In total, five of my papers focus on international migration broadly, with three examining guest worker programs, and two studying monopsony power specifically.
Control of Gig Workers
Another important topic my research addresses involves the “gig economy,” and specifically non-standard work arrangements managed through software. These developments have undermined traditional employer-employee arrangements, including the arrival of application-based software companies that pay independent contractors rather than hiring employees. The “gig economy” potentially changes the degree of power firms have over workers’ day-to-day work lives. My research has approached this topic using measures of control found in the Organizational Behavior literature that can be used in surveys of workers to obtain their perspective on the degree of employer control.
Do app-based firms exercise greater control over independent contractors than incumbent firms do, and if so, are these workers less motivated under conditions of greater control? From 2016-2017, I hired dozens of undergraduate and graduate Research Assistants (RAs) to go into the field and interview taxi, limousine, and Uber drivers to discover the answer. RAs interviewed drivers while riding as passengers, and executed a randomized field experiment in the O’Hare airport parking lots with participants who drove for both limousine companies and Uber Technologies. Just accepted at the International Journal of Human Resource Management in December 2020, The Effects of Technological Supervision on Gig Workers: Organizational Control and Motivation of Uber, Taxi, and Limousine Drivers finds that software intermediaries do increase drivers’ perception of employer control over the work, but do not decrease intrinsic motivation, while also increasing drivers’ enjoyment of their work tasks.
My interest in power imbalances and its consequences has led me to study other important phenomena, using approaches apart from the economic literature on monopsony power. Migrant workers are just one group of workers that potentially face a high degree of employer power due to limited job opportunities and potential discrimination in the labor market. Economic theory based on competitive markets predicts that firms can gain competitive advantage by hiring workers from discriminated groups who are willing to work a lower pay rate, but that does not seem to happen.
Why don’t firms hire unemployed workers? In The Role of Psychological Stigmatization in Unemployment Discrimination, my research examined social stigma and psychological bases for discrimination. My research found that firms discriminate against the unemployed, and this occurs nearly instantaneously to unemployment onset, operates through attributions, and cannot be justified on the basis of worker productivity or loss of skills. In a market where firms have power over workers, firms can discriminate against groups, and social stigmas and psychological biases assume an important role.