Rent Seeking and the Transformation of Employment Relationships: The Effect of Corporate Restructuring on Wage Patterns, Determinants, and Inequality

A key debate in research on corporate restructuring is whether this widespread and extensive transformation process made contemporary employment relationships more open—with firms relying largely on market forces to reward employees—or left them relatively closed, with wages remaining primarily a function of internal labor market systems, practices, and policies. Research in this arena has had conceptual and empirical challenges in clearly distinguishing between these contrasting perspectives, leaving open the question of whether corporate restructuring reflects a full-fledged transformation in wage patterns, determinants, and outcomes, or instead erosion around the margins. We seek to resolve this debate by extending, refining, and assessing a rent-destruction account of the effect of corporate restructuring on employment relationships—which we contrast with internal labor market approaches. Results from analyses of 25 years of personnel records from a Fortune 500 energy-sector firm are consistent with the rent-destruction account: employment relationships became more market-based following the onset of corporate restructuring—albeit with production workers’ contracts seemingly becoming more open than those of managers.