Squeezed Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Changes in Employment Practices in the Hosiery Industry

Awarded Scholars:
Rachel Connelly, Bowdoin College
Deborah DeGraff, Bowdoin College
Rachel Willis, Bowdoin College
Project Date:
Nov 1998
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Future of Work



The hosiery industry is a rare example of a light manufacturing industry that has survived in the United States despite intense competition from low-wage foreign producers, and the increased market power of large retail customers. Rachel Connelly and Deborah S. DeGraff of Bowdoin College, together with Rachel Willis of the University of North Carolina, will study the "coping mechanisms" that have kept the industry alive. Chief among these are human resource policies, including team-based work routines, 24-hour, 7-days a week production schedules, and a variety of benefits packages. The composition of the labor force has also changed, with employers hiring an increasing proportion of immigrants. The researchers will study the rationale behind these employer strategies and their impact on the working life of employees. They will conduct focus groups and interviews with managers and workers in 20 North Carolina hosiery firms, combining these with data from the National Association of Hosiery Manufacturers and their own prior survey research on the industry. Connelly will publish an ethnography of the hosiery industry, and the researchers will jointly write a second monograph showing how low-wage industry can survive in the United States, albeit at some cost to job quality.


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