The Motor Vehicle Component Supplier Industry: The Effects of Workplace Strategies on Lower-Skilled Production Workers

Awarded Scholars:
William Cooke, Wayne State University
Christopher Huxley, Trent University
David Meyer, University of Akron
Project Date:
Nov 1999
Award Amount:
$194,798
Project Programs:
Future of Work

Since the "Japanese invasion" of the US automobile market in the 1980s, America's motor vehicle manufacturers have been forced to emulate their overseas rivals in order to compete with them. Many have spun off the production of parts and components into separate enterprises-- some of them in Mexico-- and then used their leverage over these independent suppliers to bargain down input prices. America's auto-makers have regained ground, but how have their component suppliers coped with these competitive pressures, and how have their coping strategies affected low skilled workers? William Cooke of Wayne State University, Christopher Huxley of Trent University, and David Meyer of the University of Akron received an award to investigate these questions, combining in-depth case studies of 60 firms with a statistical analysis of 500 randomly selected firms from across the motor vehicle components industry. The researchers distinguish two routes firm can take: they can either make their workforce more productive, employing more skilled workers to operate more sophisticated equipment, or they can make their workforce cheaper, by squeezing wages. Neither strategy is good for low skilled workers. Firms taking the "high road" will shed low skilled workers; firms taking the "low road" will trap them in dead end jobs. The researchers will determine whether a viable "middle road" exists that might offer low skilled workers better pay and prospects.

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