The Simpsons and Worker Power

Do firms have undue bargaining power over workers?  Not according to the Simpsons.*  In 2010, the show aired an episode called “Once Upon a Time in Springfield.”  Part of the episode is…well, let’s let the episode description tell it:

Meanwhile, a corporate recruiter persuades Homer, Lenny, and Carl to work for a nuclear plant in Capital City, after Mr. Burns announces a moratorium on free doughnuts.

Let’s talk about what’s going on here: in an effort to cut costs, Mr. Burns (the owner of the power plant and wealthiest man in Springfield) stops buying doughnuts.  Homer, Lenny, and Carl are pissed, and a corporate headhunter finds them and attempts to recruit them for Mr. Burns’ rival company in Capital City.  Eventually, Mr. Burns wins them back by bringing back the doughnuts and doubling the number.

But how could this be if Mr. Burns has superior negotiating power?  Simple: firms don’t compete with workers, but with other firms for workers!  This allows workers to have bargaining power and, indeed, increases their power.

Another thing I’d like to point out: this episode aired in early 2010.  It was written in 2009, in the depths of a massive recession!  In theory, this would be the worst possible time for workers to negotiate.

*I know the Simpsons is a work of fiction, but fiction can be useful to revealing standards and expectations of the time.

12 thoughts on “The Simpsons and Worker Power

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  2. “This allows workers to have bargaining power and, indeed, increases their power.”

    I agree. This is an excellent example of collective bargaining power.

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  3. Jon

    …this would be the worst possible time for workers to negotiate.

    Apparently the electric power industry is unaffected by the recession. Rival company appears to be so desperate for workers that they’ve hired a headhunter.

    Besides, some things are worth risking everything for. Donuts may be one of them.

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    • Ron, I saw a contract agreement decided over a new basketball hoop. Insisting on that basketball hoop possibly resulted in one of the best contract agreements ever fours years later.

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  4. Walt

    Insisting on that basketball hoop possibly resulted in one of the best contract agreements ever fours years later.

    Best for whom? 🙂

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    • Best from the only side I would know. You can only judge what you went in to get and what you came out with. You don’t get to see the other side’s notes to know what they determine best is to them and they will not tell you, so you will usually not know what they think is best to them.

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  5. I am simply amazed that even extremely intelligent people fall for the misframing of wages as a competition between labor and employers rather than what it really is — a competition between workers for a job.

    As JM clarifies, prospective workers compete with each other for the best jobs and firms compete with each other for the best employees.

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