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  Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century
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Rebuilding the Social Contract at Work:
Lessons from Leading Cases

Thomas A. Kochan
Institute for Work and Employment Research
Sloan School of Management, MIT

Task Force Working Paper #WP09

May 1, 1999

Draft in Circulation

Issues for Further Discussion

These cases and the discussions they generated among the diverse members of the Task Force’s Working Group on the Social Contract and the American Corporation suggest two key points on which to base future discussions around rebuilding the social contract in employment.

First, efforts to adapt practices and norms within individual companies are necessary but not sufficient requirements for rebuilding a new social contract at work that fits today’s realities. Indeed, we have identified the need for further institutional innovations to support such individual company-employee-union efforts.

Second, efforts within these individual employment relationships must be supplemented with community, labor market, and perhaps industry-level institutional innovations capable of overcoming the inherent limits of individual firm-level efforts. These external institutions may be more important now than in the past, given the changing markets and technologies that limit the promises and commitments that an individual firm can make to its employees.

What these external institutions should be—and how individual firms and unions should relate to or participate in them—are issues we will be discussing in future meetings, Working Papers, and other publications of the Task Force.


Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Joel. 1988. Tracing a Transformation in Industrial Relations: The Case of the Xerox Corporation and the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor.

Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Joel. 1991. “The Impact on Economic Performance of a Transformation in Workplace Relations.” Industrial and Labor Relations Review 44 (January): 241-260.

Fisher, George M.C. 1997. “ A New Relationship with Employees.” Written for the CEO Series, Center for the Study of American Business, Washington University, St. Louis, March.

Kochan, Thomas A. and Saul Rubinstein. 1998. “Toward a Stakeholder Theory of the Firm: The Saturn Partnership.” MIT Sloan School of Management Working Paper. Cambridge, MA: MIT Sloan School of Management.

Oakeshott, Robert of Job Ownership Ltd. 1997. “Majority Employee Ownership at United Airlines: Evidence of Big Wins for both Jobs and Investors.” Case study commissioned by Partnership Research Ltd. and Unit Trust Bank PLC, London, July.

Jacoby, Sanford. 1997. Modern Manors. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Santoli, Michael. 1998. “Kodak’s New Colors.” Barrons August 24: 25.

Swasy, Alecia. 1997. Changing Focus: Kodak and the Battle to Save a Great American Company. New York: Random House.

(1) For a thorough analysis of Kodak’s employment and community relations history, see Jacoby (1997).

(2) For a review of Kodak through the 1980s and 1990s, see Swasy (19XX).

(3) UNITE is a merged union. The partnership was originally formed by Xerox with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU). In 1995, ACTWU and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union merged to form UNITE.

(4) See “Multiple Perspectives on Organizational Transformation: The Case of Xerox Corporation,” (Cambridge, MA: MIT Sloan School of Management, 1997). See also Cutcher-Gershenfeld (1988).

(5) See the case study by Cutcher-Gershenfeld (1988) cited above and his quantitative evaluation of the workplace innovations in Cutcher-Gershenfeld (1991).

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