Shareholder Value and Workforce Downsizing, 1981-2006

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Shareholder Value and Workforce Downsizing, 1981-2006

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Title: Shareholder Value and Workforce Downsizing, 1981-2006
Author: Jung, Jin Wook
Citation: Jung, Jin Wook. 2012. Shareholder Value and Workforce Downsizing, 1981-2006. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Even before the current economic meltdown, waves of downsizing, starting in the late 1970s, had swept corporate America, eroding workers’ expectations of economic security. But not only did downsizing become more prevalent during this period; its basic nature changed. Previously, firms had cut jobs temporarily, to adjust the size of their workforce during a downturn. Since the late 70s, firms have increasingly cut jobs in both good and bad times, in order to boost stock price. My dissertation examines the inter-group power dynamics underlying the transformation of workforce downsizing as a shareholder-value strategy. Examining both downsizing announcements from more than 700 leading U.S. corporations between 1981 and 2006, and actual implementation of the announced downsizing plans, I find at work in the process a shift in ideology, from an emphasis on corporate growth and conglomeration to an emphasis on profitability and shareholder value, an ideology that both reflects and intensifies the growing influence of shareholders over firms and the declining role of labor. My first empirical chapter examines the role of institutional investors and shareholder-value-oriented managers in the transformation. The second empirical chapter examines the potential resistance from labor unions and shows how the anti-union stance of the public policy regime in the 1980s weakened unions’ power to resist. The last empirical chapter examines the role of investors, unions, and executives in the implementation of announced downsizing plans and demonstrates the contested nature of the implementation process. Together, these three chapters illustrate the class politics simmering under the surface of the acceptance of downsizing for shareholder-value maximization, and emphasize the role of agency and power, as constructed by particular institutional logics, not only in promoting but also resisting the process of institutional change.
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