Cornell University Press Ithaca College Interns Write

The Great Resignation and Restructuring Bargaining Power

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For more than a decade now, Ithaca College students have interned in the Cornell University Press marketing department, where they have learned valuable on-the-job skills and, for some, where they kick-started their careers in publishing. This is the first installment in their new blog series—Ithaca College Interns Write. This post was written by Kristen Gregg, a senior at Ithaca College majoring in writing and minoring in Honors.

It has always been the case that there is a power imbalance between employers and employees in the US. With as little as seven percent of US counties being affordable for a full-time minimum-wage worker living in a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent, the struggle for employees to earn more money and power with their employers shows just how bleak the situation has been.

Part of the current phenomenon that is the Great Resignation comes from pandemic-induced stress on top of existing pressures for employees. In December of 2021, 2.6 percent of the total employment in the US quit. Globally, 40 percent of those working in spring of 2021 considered leaving their employer within a year. Now, workers are taking the opportunity to use their new bargaining power to negotiate the terms of their work relations.

As little as seven percent of US counties are affordable for a full-time minimum-wage worker living in a one-bedroom apartment.

The situation employees find themselves in because of the pandemic has much to offer: for one, employers are in need of employees and more likely to listen to workers’ needs to hire and retain them. As of December 2021, there were 10.9 million job openings, which is more than July of that year. Remote work has allowed employees more flexibility in their schedules. However, it has also led to doing even more work, which brings into question just how much power employees have really gained as a result of major shifts in the workplace and the workforce.

It has taken a pandemic for employees to have enough power to bargain with their current and potential employers, which demonstrates the need for restructuring how we think about traditional bargaining power between workers and employers. Is there a way to balance the two parties—or does American society need a deeper cleaning of its power structure within the workforce? White supremacy, racism, and sexism have contributed to the structure of the American workforce. When restructuring the power imbalance between workers and employees, it is necessary to be aware of these influences.

And that is what Erica Smiley and Sarita Gupta do in The Future We Need: The Key to Building Democracy in the Twenty-First Century. By interviewing working-class people and exploring existing power structures, they center their solutions to bargaining power differences between workers and employers around facing white supremacy and gender discrimination. They take a sustainable approach to combating these influences when laying out adaptive negotiation systems workers can adjust to for today as well as the future. In the world Smiley and Gupta envision, there will be no racism and sexism in the workplace and no need for a Great Resignation to ensure a balance of power between workers and their employers.

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