The Impact of International Outsourcing on Unionization and Wages: Evidence from the Apparel Export Sector in Central America
It is often assumed that manufacturing workers in developing countries, as recipients of outsourced jobs, would achieve economic benefits and organizational power. The author argues that job growth in developing countries through outsourcing to competing firms has often actually resulted in declining unionization and lower wage rates relative to traditional, integrated manufacturing firms. Using time-series data on union membership from 1980–2003 for Honduras and El Salvador as well as 2004 Household Survey Data for El Salvador, he examines the determinants of unionization rates and wages in the manufacturing sectors. He finds that that competitive outsourcing hurts labor at the plant-level in three ways: 1) it reduces labor’s strike leverage by geographically dispersing the production process; 2) it increases the threat of plant mobility by decreasing plant-level investments; and 3) it increases labor costs relative to total costs, which creates an incentive for employers to keep wages low and unions out.