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Labour inputs substitution during corporate restructuring: a translog model approach for US freight railroads

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After deregulation in 1980, competitive pressures forced the large US freight railroads to reduce costs and restructure, resulting in an economic renaissance of the US railroad companies after years of poor financial conditions. The most striking restructuring measure receiving much attention was dramatic labour downsizing: until 2004 employment was reduced by 60%. But other overlooked measures are the significant restructuring of workforce composition, and important changes in railroads’ workplace organization practices and corporate culture. To better understand this successful occupational restructuring, I investigate labour inputs substitutional relationships by using a translog variable cost model. Labour is decomposed into six employee categories rather than traditional production–nonproduction breakdown to estimate inputs elasticities of substitution. The data investigated is a unique firm-level dataset on the US freight Class I Railroads, covering a 22-year period, which allows this fine-grained analysis. I also document railroad workplace organization practices relating to results and reflecting changes in railroads corporate culture. I find strong substitutability between managerial positions and transportation employees, pointing to achievement of better command and control of operations; a high degree of complementarity between the most skilled employee categories and the strongest substitute relationship between transportation and maintenance of Ways&Structures groups.
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Keywords: C33; G34; J21; J82; L92; labour inputs substitution; labour restructuring; panel data; translog; workplace organization practices

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Economics, Groupe ESC Troyes (Champagne School of Management), 217, Avenue Pierre Brossolette, BP 710 Troyes 10002, France

Publication date: 2013-06-01

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