How free are free agents? : the relational structure of high-end contract work
Author(s)Fernandez-Mateo, Maria-Isabel, 1974-
Sloan School of Management.
Paul Osterman and Roberto Fernandez.
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This dissertation evaluates the extent to which temporary work enables or constrains workers' careers, by moving beyond a polarized image of contingent employment as "free agency" versus "exploitation." I argue that, in order to comprehend this phenomenon, we need to acknowledge and understand the triadic structure of contingent labor markets, in which transactions between workers and firms are mediated by intermediary organizations. The thesis shows that the triadic system of relationships in which intermediaries are embedded contributes to shape market processes, by significantly influencing prices, wages and other individual career outcomes. I combine in-depth statistical analyses of a unique dataset of job histories and client data from a specialized staffing firm with interviews among high-skill contractors in the creative information technology sector (web designers, programmers, etc.). The dissertation is organized into three papers that provide distinct insights on different aspects of the triadic labor market context, yet all of them focus on the relational processes that underlie this phenomenon. The first paper shows that the nature of the staffing agency's inter-organizational relationships with clients has significant consequences for price and wage determination. The second paper focuses on the relationships between the staffing agency and its contractors, by showing the existence of tenure premiums in this agency and explaining its causes. Finally, the last paper presents a qualitative study of how workers perceive and experience triadic employment relationships. This dissertation's findings contribute to the literature on contingent employment by providing a nuanced picture of this phenomenon, as well as by showing that(cont.) intermediaries are not simply neutral devices that companies use to increase flexibility. In fact, the triadic configuration of externalized labor markets is highly organized and socially structured. My results also contribute to the literature on market mediation, by analyzing brokerage beyond the broker itself and studying its consequences on third parties. They also help open the "black box" of brokerage organizations, uncovering the specific ways in which these affect market outcomes. Finally, these findings contribute to a nascent stream of research in Economic Sociology that analyzes the effects of inter-organizational ties and networks on price determination.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management, 2004.Includes bibliographical references (p. 185-193).
DepartmentSloan School of Management.; Sloan School of Management
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Sloan School of Management.