A Theory of the Firm with Non-binding Employment Contracts

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Abstract

This paper examines an employment relation in which individual workers enjoy some bargaining power vis-a-vis the firm although they are not unionized. The main elements of the situations studied here are that the employment contracts are non-binding across periods of production and that the firm has opportunities to replace workers. The paper analyzes a dynamic model in which the processes of contracting and recontracting between the firm and its workers are intertwined with the dynamic evolution of the firm's workforce. The analysis of the model is somewhat complicated because the employment level is a nondegenerate state variable that evolves over time and is affected by past decisions. The main analytical results characterize certain important equilibria: the profit maximizing and stationary equilibria. The unique stationary equilibrium is markedly inefficient: it exhibits inefficient over-employment and the steady state wages coincide with the workers' reservation wage. It confirms earlier results derived by Stole and Zwiebel (1996a, b) in the context of a static model and shows that they are very robust even when the firm has nearly frictionless hiring opportunities. In contrast, in the profit maximizing equilibrium the outcome is nearly efficient and the wage exhibits a mark-up over the reservation wage.

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