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:
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.