Staff Report 220

Pattern Bargaining

Antonio Merlo
Robert Marshall

Published November 1, 1996

Many unions in the United States have for several years engaged in what is known as pattern bargaining—a union determines a sequence for negotiations with firms within an industry where the agreement with the first firm becomes the take-it-or-leave-it offer by the union for all subsequent negotiations. In this paper, we show that pattern bargaining is preferred by a union to both simultaneous industrywide negotiations and sequential negotiations without a pattern. In recent years, unions have increasingly moved away from patterns that equalized wage rates across firms when these patterns did not equalize interfirm labor costs. Allowing for interfirm productivity differentials within an industry, we show that for small interfirm productivity differentials, the union most prefers a pattern in wages, but for a sufficiently wide differential, the union prefers a pattern in labor costs.

Published In: International Economic Review (Vol. 45, No. 1, February 2004, pp. 239-255)

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