Broken Windows, Vulnerable Workers, and the Future of Worker Representation

23 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2012 Last revised: 8 Oct 2013

See all articles by David Weil

David Weil

Brandeis University Heller School of Social Policy and Management; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: April 1, 2012

Abstract

The “broken windows” perspective suggests that the erosion of order in a neighborhood leads to elevated fear, retreat from the street, and consequently an environment where more serious crime takes root. I apply the broken windows idea to the workplace. Increasing violations of basic standards in many low-wage workplaces is perceived by workers as the breakdown of laws, making them reluctant to exercise voice in any way, in turn resulting in further erosion of conditions. Efforts to increase union representation are challenging at best under these circumstances. I provide evidence of the decline of complaints by workers over the last decade under the Fair Labor Standards Act as consistent with this story. I then argue that public policy makers and worker advocates should rethink their approach in light of broken windows, focusing on ways to improve collective exercise of basic workplace rights.

Keywords: worker representation, labor unions, compliance, labor law, broken windows

JEL Classification: J50, J51, J53, J58

Suggested Citation

Weil, David, Broken Windows, Vulnerable Workers, and the Future of Worker Representation (April 1, 2012). Boston U. School of Management Research Paper No. 2012-23, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2126729 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2126729

David Weil (Contact Author)

Brandeis University Heller School of Social Policy and Management ( email )

P.O. Box 549110/MS 035
415 South Street
Waltham, MA 02454
United States

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-8474 (Phone)
617-496-1722 (Fax)

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