Suresh Naidu: Customer-Worker Conflict in Service Sector Labor Organizing


Monday, February 1, 2016, 12:00pm to 1:45pm


Harvard Kennedy School: Allison Dining Room

Suresh NaiduAssistant Professor in Economics and International and Public Affairs, Columbia University.

We use a new dataset on labor organizing in a large retail firm to examine conflict between workers and customers in the service sector. We show that increases in worker organizing, as measured by membership cards signed, decrease customer ratings, as measured in Yelp reviews.  We further show, using text analysis, that negative ratings in these Yelp reviews are associated with negative perceptions of workers. Finally, using results of an online survey experiment, we show that negative customer service experiences undermine customers’ support for unions and higher wages for workers, and these effects are larger when customers hear of others’ negative experiences (e.g. via Yelp).  

Thus, we identify a negative relationship between service worker organizing and customer/public support for unionization.  We suggest that this may contribute to the structural forces behind union decline in the United States, and that it presents a unique obstacle for labor organizing in the service sector.

(Joint research with Adam Reich, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Columbia University).

About the speaker

Suresh Naidu is an Assistant Professor of Economics and of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, where he teaches economics, political economy and development.

Naidu previously served as a Harvard Academy Junior Scholar at Harvard University (2008-10) and a Visiting Assistant Professor in Economics at MIT (2013-14).

In 2015, Naidu was named an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, a two-year fellowship  that celebrates early-career scientists and scholars "whose achievements and potential identify them as rising stars, the next generation of scientific leaders."

He earlier held a Junior Fellowship (2011-13)  with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), whose Global Academy Scholars program recognizes "outstanding early career researchers who show promise of impact in their field of research."

Naidu holds a BMath from University of Waterloo, an MA in economics from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and a PhD in economics from the University of California-Berkeley.

See also: Spring 2016