The Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be Done to Improve It

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9780674725447: The Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be Done to Improve It

For much of the twentieth century, large companies employing many workers formed the bedrock of the U.S. economy. Today, on the list of big business's priorities, sustaining the employer-worker relationship ranks far below building a devoted customer base and delivering value to investors. As David Weil's groundbreaking analysis shows, large corporations have shed their role as direct employers of the people responsible for their products, in favor of outsourcing work to small companies that compete fiercely with one another. The result has been declining wages, eroding benefits, inadequate health and safety conditions, and ever-widening income inequality.

From the perspectives of CEOs and investors, fissuring--splitting off functions that were once managed internally--has been a phenomenally successful business strategy, allowing companies to become more streamlined and drive down costs. Despite giving up direct control to subcontractors, vendors, and franchises, these large companies have figured out how to maintain quality standards and protect the reputation of the brand. They produce brand-name products and services without the cost of maintaining an expensive workforce. But from the perspective of workers, this lucrative strategy has meant stagnation in wages and benefits and a lower standard of living--if they are fortunate enough to have a job at all.

Weil proposes ways to modernize regulatory policies and laws so that employers can meet their obligations to workers while allowing companies to keep the beneficial aspects of this innovative business strategy.

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About the Author:

In May 2014, David Weil became the U.S. Wage and Hour Administrator in the U.S. Department of Labor. Prior to that appointment, he was Peter and Deborah Wexler Professor of Management; Professor in the Department of Markets, Public Policy, and Law; and Everett W. Lord Distinguished Faculty Scholar at Boston University School of Management. He has also served as co-Director of the Transparency Policy Project at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Review:

Authoritative...As inequality has drawn increased public debate, most recently thanks to Thomas Piketty’s influential work, the changing conditions of employment have gotten far too little attention. Work remains the prime source of income for most people. The fissuring of work, Weil finds, is one of the main factors in the widening gap between productivity and earnings because it allows corporations to batter down labor costs―people’s paychecks...[The Fissured Workplace] shed[s] important new light on the resurgence of the power of finance and its connection to the debasement of work and income distribution. (Robert Kuttner New York Review of Books 2014-10-23)

The kinds of workplace fissuring discussed here―subcontracting, franchising and global supply chains―have been the subjects of a number of studies detailing the employment effects that Weil describes. The Fissured Workplace is unusual in bringing this research together into an integrated, detailed and decidedly policy-oriented analysis. Through linking organizational strategies that share an underlying logic, it makes a compelling case that workplace fissuring should be given a more prominent place in analyses of the causes of growing inequality. Along the way, Weil shows that fissuring constitutes a fundamental and formidable challenge to existing employment regulations...It makes a convincing case that the better regulation of fissured workplaces is a first step towards reversing the erosion of pay and conditions at the bottom of the labor market. (Virginia Doellgast Times Higher Education 2014-03-06)

This book is an excellent application of institutional analysis in economics. In exacting detail, Weil describes the process by which employers subcontract business functions in pursuit of efficiencies, but often at the expense of employees. (D. C. Jacobs Choice 2014-07-01)

With insight and precision, David Weil has brought to light the shell game played by so many modern business organizations. Today, the company whose logo is on your work shirt, smock, or ID badge may not be the one that recruits, hires, manages, pays, disciplines, and sometimes even houses you. This fracturing of the basic employer-employee relationship is reshaping lives and industries. If there's one book you should read about work today, this is it. (Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President)

The Fissured Workplace paints a striking picture of the underside of the U.S. labor market: the workers who service expensive hotels but need food stamps and income support for their families to survive; the 'independent contractors' who clean office buildings under contracts that pay below minimum wages; and hundreds of thousands of others struggling in an economy where you work not for branded name companies in the open light but for subcontractors behind the scenes. Weil documents the growth of the fissured labor market, tells us how it contributes to the impoverishment of America, and offers ways to make matters better. You will think differently about the world of work after reading this marvelous book. (Richard B. Freeman, Harvard University)

The book persuasively argues that widening income inequality has less to do with technological innovations and more to do with organizational innovations. The deep dive that Weil does on subcontracting, franchising, and supply chains is a must-read for anyone interested in how these practices have affected pay and working conditions. He goes beyond just documenting what is happening and presents a detailed proposal on how and why we need to mend, through legislation and enforcement, the increasingly fissured relationship between workers and their employers. (Lisa M. Lynch, Dean, The Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University)

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