Social Class and Income Shares in the U.S. Airline Industry, 1977-2005

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW2.3.03 (Tower Two)
Dustin Avent-Holt, Augusta State University, Augusta, GA; Georgia Regents University, Augusta, GA
Recent studies highlight the importance of both deunionization and financialization in shaping the distribution of income across classes since the 1980s.  However, research to date has not examined these as firm-level mechanisms, and has not distinguished between managerial and non-managerial workers within the class of labor.  As well, researchers have to date ignored two major trends in the neoliberal political economy: the rise of non-traditional employment relations and the rise of managerial power.  In this paper I address these prior limitations by focusing on the effects of financialization and union power on the distribution of shares of income between capital, managers, and non-managerial workers at the firm level.  Using firm-level data from the balance sheets of 63 airline firms from 1977-2005 I find that among airlines in the neoliberal era both strikes and short-term financial investments redistribute income from non-managerial workers to firm profits, but leave managerial shares of income undisturbed. However, the growing use of non-traditional work arrangements and the hypothesized rise of managerial power in the neoliberal era have had no discernable effect on the distribution of income across these three classes at airline firms.  I conclude that analyses of the distribution of income shares across classes must incorporate a more detailed class schema and that financialization and deunionization are at least in part firm-level mechanisms of income redistribution across classes.