By Tracy L Slater

New 2012 Faculty at the School of Management

September 5th, 2012 in Accounting, Faculty, Finance, Information Systems, Marketing, New Faculty/Promoted, News, Operations & Technology Management, Organizational Behavior

Boston University School of Management is delighted to welcome 12 new full-time faculty members, starting September 2012.

New Associate and Assistant Professors


Leila Agah
Markets, Public Policy & Law, Assistant Professor

Agah earned her PhD and BS in economics from MIT. Most recently, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship in health and aging for the National Bureau of Economic Research. Previously, she served as a Galbraith Scholar at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and conducted research at MIT and the World Bank in Indonesia. Agah’s research interests include public economics, health economics, and the economics of technology and innovation. Her awards include serving as referee for several major journals, a Young Researcher Award at the Workshop on Health IT and Economics, and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Andrea M. Buffa

Andrea M. Buffa
Finance, Assistant Professor

Buffa earned his PhD and MRes in finance, plus his MSc in finance and economics, all from the London School of Business, his MSc in economics from Collegio Carlo Alberto (Italy), and his BA in economics from the University of Turin (Italy). His research interests include asset pricing with market imperfections, credit risk, delegated portfolio management, contract theory, and market microstructure. Among his awards are Western Finance Association Travel Grants and the ESRC Scholarship.

Susan Jung GrantSusan Jung Grant
Marketing, Clinical Associate Professor

Grant earned her PhD and MBA in marketing from Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, and her BA in English literature from University of Pennsylvania. Previously, she was assistant professor of marketing at University of Colorado Leeds School of Business. Her research interests include consumer information processing, persuasion, judgment and decision-making; influence of consumer goal states and motivation on cognition; new product evaluation and consumer acceptance of innovation, and psychology of financial decision-making. Her awards include Advertising Education Foundation Visiting Professor Program Award, MBA Educator of Distinction Award at University of Colorado and Joseph L. Frascona Teaching Excellence Award Finalist.

Didem KurtDidem Kurt
Marketing, Assistant Professor

Kurt earned her PhD in 2012 in marketing from University of Pittsburgh Katz Business School, her MBA in finance from the University of Alabama, and her BS in political science and public administration from Middle East Technical University in Turkey. Her research interests include social influence, in-store decision making and shopper marketing, and the marketing-finance interface. She has been awarded the AMA Sheth Foundation Doctoral Consortium Fellowship, Haring Symposium Fellowship at Indiana University, and Mitsubishi Fellowship at University of Pittsburgh.

Lynn LiLynn Li
Accounting, Assistant Professor

Li completed her PhD in accounting at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012. Previously, she had studied graduate finance at Cornell University, and earned her BA in economics at Emory University. She has taught corporate and financial accounting and financial statement analysis at MIT, and managerial finance at Cornell. Li’s research interests include accounting regulations and policies; banking; contracting innovation; and networks. Her awards include Sloan School of Management Doctoral Fellowship, AAA/Deloitte/J. Michael Cook Doctoral Consortium Participant, and Jack and Lewis Greenhut Award.

Erin M. ReidErin M. Reid
Organizational Behavior, Assistant Professor

Reid completed her PhD in organizational behavior and sociology from Harvard University in 2012. She earned an AM in sociology from Harvard, and MSc in organizational behavior from Queen’s University, and a BComm from McMaster University. Her research and teaching interests include gender and identity dynamics in organizations and occupations. Among her awards are the Emerald Best Student Paper Award, GDO Division, Academy of Management; Harvard University Graduate Society Dissertation Completion Fellowship; INFORMS/Organization Science Dissertation Proposal Competition Finalist; and Outstanding Reviewer Award, GDO Division, Academy of Management.

Jesse ShoreJesse Shore
Information Systems, Assistant Professor

Shore earned his PhD in economic development at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, master’s in urban planning at Harvard University, and BA in music at Bowdoin College. He recently completed post-doctoral studies at the School of Management after conducting research at Northeastern University’s Lazer Lab and Harvard University Institute for Quantitative Social Science. He also conducted research at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Institute for International Urban Development. His research interests include communication network structure, organization structure and problem-solving performance, structural holes and information overload, and evolution of inter-firm networks. Shore has also been a recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Dylan WalkerDylan Walker
Information Systems, Assistant Professor

Walker earned his PhD in theoretical physics in complex systems at Stony Brook University, a BS in physics from New York University, and a BA in electrical engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology. He also did post-doctoral work at NYU Stern School of Business. His research focuses on the role of networks and networked systems in the diffusion of information, behaviors, and dynamic processes. Specifically, his scholarship aims to develop an empirical understanding of these dynamics, exploring how such an understanding can shape the formation of new policies and incentive structures that seek to promote or discourage behavioral and economic outcomes at the individual, community, and population level.

New Lecturers

Ralph CovinoRalph Covino
Information Systems, Senior Lecturer

Covino earned his PhD in computer information systems from Nova Southeastern University, and his MBA and BSBA in business management from Suffolk University. After having taught at the School of Management for almost a decade, he now moves to full-time as a senior lecturer in the Information Systems department. He has also taught at Northeastern University and Cambridge College. Covino has held positions as department chair of information technology for an on-line MBA program, and director of information technology and security programs. His IT industry experience extends over two decades, with senior level positions in a variety of industries. He also serves as a project manager for Pfizer Global Operations. His research and teaching interests include internet filtering software used for access to various web sites, project management, information technology at all levels, e-commerce, and management issues.

Barry KadetsBarry Kadets
Operations & Technology Management, Lecturer

Kadets earned his MS and ABD in operations research from New York University, and his BS in mathematics cum laude at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He has been an adjunct professor at the School since 2008, now becoming a full-time lecturer in the operations and technology management department. Kadets has an extensive background in IT, and has been EVP, CIO, and cofounder Securitinet; CIO of The Gem Group; global CIO and VP of Bacou-Dalloz; and CIO of Encore Computer. He has taught at several colleges including University of Massachusetts (Boston) and Suffolk University. His teaching interests are operations management and statistics for both undergraduate and MBA programs. His research is in digital security in the healthcare industry. Kadets received a Computerworld “Premier 100 IT Leader Award” in 2001.

Yoo-Taek LeeYoo-Taek Lee
Operations & Technology Management, Senior Lecturer

Lee earned his DBA, MBA, and MS/MIS at Boston University School of Management and a BA at Hongik University (Korea). He has taught at Emmanuel College, Babson College, and Hult International Business School. His research interests include the supplier’s capability of upgrading in global supply chains, the evolution of mid-sized firm’s capability upgrading in supply chains, and the development of socially responsible supply chains.

Nelia NewellNelia Newell
Operations & Technology Management, Lecturer

Newell earned both her MBA with a concentration in finance and MSW at Columbia University, and her AB in English at Radcliffe College. She has been a lecturer at the School since 2009, joining this fall as a full-time lecturer. Her professional experience includes time as a commercial lending officer at Comerica Bank and various roles at BankBoston, where she helped manage and develop the curriculum for the credit officer training program. She has also served as chair of the Finance Committee for Wellesley College’s Wellesley Centers for Women.

James Post’s “Private Management and Public Policy” Named Stanford Business Classic

August 23rd, 2012 in Honors & Awards, Markets, Public Policy & Law, News, Social Impact

Seminal Text Re-Released for New Generation of Scholars, Practitioners

Post - Stanford Business Classics CoverStanford University Press has chosen Lee Preston and James Post’s Private Management and Public Policy: The Principle of Public Responsibility for their Business Classics Series, devoted to bringing the management field’s seminal texts to a new generation of leaders, researchers, and students.

Post is the John F. Smith, Jr. Professor in Management at Boston University and recipient of the Aspen Institute’s 2010 Faculty Pioneer Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Lee Preston, who passed away in 2011 after a long and distinguished career, was Professor Emeritus in the Department of Logistics, Business, and Public Policy at the University of Maryland, and a Fellow of the Academy of Management.

Describing this new edition of Preston and Post’s book, which was originally published in 1975, Stanford University Press writes,

“Private Management and Public Policy is a landmark work at the intersection of business and society….The text develops the ‘principle of public responsibility’ as an alternative to the notion that firms have unlimited accountability…. Arguably, the book’s major contribution is its broad outline of an alternative theory of the firm in society—one that offers the possibility of overcoming traditional public and private dichotomies.”

Throughout, Preston and Post address three fundamental questions:

  1. What must business do to demonstrate responsiveness to social and political issues?
  2. What is the proper role of the corporation in the political arena?
  3. What are the limits of corporate responsibility in the modern world?

Of this third question, Post writes in a new introduction to the book,


“No firm can have unlimited responsibilities for everything, and yet no firm can reasonably expect society to hold it accountable for nothing.” 

“Corporate responsibility is a vital topic for twenty-first century companies and managers. No firm can have unlimited responsibilities for everything, and yet no firm can reasonably expect society to hold it accountable for nothing.  The difficult part for managers and citizens alike is to define logical limits of demarcation –and practical guidelines– based on what the firm actually does and the impact it actually has on society.   The principle of public responsibility, as it is called in this book, extends the firm’s responsibility to its primary involvement (those things it chooses to do) and secondary involvement (those impacts that flow from its primary activities), but no further.  The scope of responsibility may be great, depending on the size of the corporate footprint, but it is not unlimited.”

Read more about Private Management and Public Policy.

Corporate Governance Expert Jim Post on Romney, Responsibility, and Bain

July 24th, 2012 in Faculty, Markets, Public Policy & Law

James Post on WCVB TvBoston’s WCVB news channel recently sought insight from corporate governance expert James Post about the debate over Mitt Romney’s responsibility for the business decisions his company, Bain Capital, made three years after he claims he ceded control.

Post is Boston University’s John Smith Professor in Management in markets, public policy, and law, and he offered commentary about the Republican presidential candidate’s contention that he remained chief executive and chairman of Bain Capital but had no involvement in the firm’s activities, serving as leader in name only.

WCVB reports, “’It’s possible, but it’s not very likely that both are true,’ [Post says]. Corporate governance experts like Post say that if there was a COO making all the decisions, the SEC should be asking questions.”

Watch the interview.

INFORMS Podcast Series Features Chris Dellarocas on Double Marginalization in Performance-Based Advertising

July 17th, 2012 in Emerging Research, Faculty, Information Systems, News, Podcast

“The Science of Better” Spotlights Dellarocas’s Management Science Article

Chris DellarocasIn his June 2012 Management Science article “Double Marginalization in Performance-based Advertising: Implications and Solutions,” Chrysanthos Dellarocas explores an unexpected consequence of online pay-per-action systems (PPAs), such as the pay-per-click model—research that was recently highlighted by the Institute for Operations Research and Management Science (INFORMS) podcast series “The Science of Better.”

Dellarocas is Professor (effective September 2012) and Chair of Information Systems at Boston University School of Management. He is also a widely-cited expert in online reputation, social media, and information economics.

Although the pay-per-click model and other PPA systems in online markets were intended to reduce advertising costs and boost efficiency, Dellarocas reports in his Management Science paper that they “tempt firms to increase the prices of their goods so they generate fewer clicks/sales but make more profit per click and, most importantly, pay fewer commissions to pay-per-click publishers, such as Google.”  Such behavior reduces consumer surplus. It can also “reduce publisher revenues relative to pay-per-exposure methods,” creating what the author calls “a form of double marginalization.”

“It’s possible to calculate a system that induces sellers to maintain product price at the levels that would maximize the profits if they bought advertising the traditional way. Ultimately this is to the benefit of the advertisers as well.”

In the podcast posted by INFORMS spotlighting this research, Dellarocas discusses his findings, explaining the phenomenon of double marginalization and offering solutions to improve pricing equilibrium and consumer surplus, as well as to improve publishers’ expected profits in PPA systems.

“One idea is a system of penalties and rewards on top of standard pay-per-clicks,” Dellarocas suggests. “If you buy an ad but nobody clicks on it—because, for example, your price is too high—then the next time you buy an ad from the same place, your cost-per-click would be just a little higher.”

Comparing this model to that of auto insurance premiums, Dellarocas explains, “The objective is to discourage sellers from increasing the prices of their products so they can receive fewer clicks (and, therefore, pay the publishers fewer times) but make more profits when they do.”

This works, Dellarocas argues, because, as he shows in his Management Science paper, “It’s possible to calculate a system that induces sellers to maintain product price at the level that would maximize the profits if they bought advertising the traditional way. Ultimately this is to the benefit of the advertisers as well.”

Listen to the full podcast at the INFORMS site The Science of Better.

Michelle Barton Named Rep-at-Large for Academy of Management MOC Division

July 17th, 2012 in Faculty, Honors & Awards, News, Organizational Behavior

A Three-Year Term with the Managerial and Organizational Cognition Division

Michelle BartonBoston University School of Management’s Michelle Barton, assistant professor of organizational behavior, has been elected Representative-at-Large for the Managerial and Organizational Cognition Division (MOC) of the Academy of Management (AoM). The MOC is one of 24 divisions in the AoM, the nation’s oldest and largest scholarly management association.

The MOC’s domain is to research how members of organizations model reality to make sense of the world around them, and how such models interact with behaviors, affecting the way people organize and interact with one another. Study topics include attention, attribution, decision making, ideology, information processing, learning, memory, mental representations and images, perceptual and interpretive processes, social construction, and symbols.

Research Spotlight: Barton, M.A. & Sutcliffe, K., (2010). Learning when to stop momentum, MIT Sloan Management Review, 51 (3), 69-76. Academy of Management Finalist for Outstanding Practitioner-Oriented Publication in OB.

In addition to serving with the other officers to manage general MOC business, Barton will oversee the Cognition in the Rough Professional Development Workshop (PDW) at the Academy of Management annual meeting. This workshop provides an opportunity for junior and senior scholars to discuss their early stage research papers in a roundtable setting, facilitated by experienced scholars—often editors of top journals—who give feedback and facilitate peer response, particularly on theoretical models and planned methodology.

Barton’s own research considers how individuals and groups organize to manage uncertainty in real time. Drawing from a variety of empirical settings, including wildland fire-fighting and high tech entrepreneurship, Barton focuses on the social and cognitive processes that affect organizational members’ awareness and interpretation of unfolding events and their capacity for flexible and adaptive response.

“PDW feedback has been instrumental in helping scholars further develop their research for publication in top academic journals.” – Academy of Management

Her work bridges the domains of crisis management, organizational learning, and technology innovation, and has been published in a variety of outlets including Human Relations, MIT Sloan Management Review, the Best Paper Proceedings of Academy of Management, and several edited collections. She has been an active member of the MOC division for the past eight years, presenting her own work as well as organizing symposia and professional development workshops.

Barton earned her PhD in Management & Organizations from the University of Michigan.

Stephen Davidson in New York Times on Health Care, State Rights, and Divergent Costs

July 10th, 2012 in Faculty, Health Sector, Markets, Public Policy & Law, News

Stephen M. DavidsonWidely-cited health care expert Stephen M. Davidson, a professor in Boston University School of Management’s Markets, Public Policy & Law Department, has written in a letter to the New York Times about the debate over state rights and the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

Davidson is a frequent blogger on health care for the Huffington Post and author of the recent book Still Broken: Understanding the U.S. Health Care System. His New York Times letter reads,

No Letup in the Health-Law Debate

To the Editor:

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision establishing the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, many Republicans are focusing their opposition on states’ rights. They argue that rather than a “one size fits all” national plan, each state should be able to choose a policy that suits its own conditions. Mitt Romney defends his having championed a similar law in Massachusetts when he was governor in similar terms.

“Some citizens would be denied coverage that similar residents of other states would have—simply because of where they happened to live.”

Let’s not forget an important reality: many states, even if their governors wanted to enact health care reform to provide insurance to 98 percent of the population, as Massachusetts did, cannot afford to do so. And not just because of the recent recession. Some states are much poorer than others. Moreover, those states also tend to have larger numbers of people without insurance and would need to spend more to provide coverage for them.

One result of a state-based health care reform plan, therefore, would be that some citizens would be denied coverage that similar residents of other states would have — simply because of where they happened to live.

Boston, July 2, 2012

See this letter at the New York Times online.

N. Venkatraman on Why BlackBerry Could Rebound

June 25th, 2012 in Faculty, Information Systems, News

Professor Venkatraman

N.Venkatraman, the David J. McGrath, Jr. Professor in Management

For their blog Boston Daily, Boston Magazine interviewed the School of Management’s N. Venkatraman of the Information Systems department about the five reasons you may still want to hold onto your BlackBerry. They write:

Research in Motion Lmtd. (RIM), the creator of the BlackBerry, has been making headlines with its plummet from its former place of preeminence in the smartphone market. Once the reigning king of cell phone mobile device stores nationwide, the one-app wonder that captured our hearts (and souls) with the BlackBerry Messenger app has been edged out by competitors Apple and Android. The firm’s share of the U.S. smartphone market has plunged from 43 percent two years ago to just over 12 percent, according to reports from market research firm ComScore Inc.

“It would be foolish to predict the demise of any company,” Venkatraman said. “Apple and IBM have been famously declared dead by many pundits who now are wondering about their predictions.”

Last month, RIM announced that it had brought in analysts from J.P. Morgan Securities and RBC Capital Markets to review their financial performance and develop “strategic business model alternatives.” As speculation continues to grow regarding the fate—and possible demise—of the BlackBerry, we spoke with Venkat N. Venkatraman, the David J. McGrath, Jr. Professor in the information systems department at Boston University’s School of Management.

His take? There may still be some battery life left in your BlackBerry.

Venkatraman’s list of reasons for why the BlackBerry could make a rebound includes:

  1. It’s not the first time speculators have (incorrectly) labeled a struggling tech company as a sinking ship.
  2. RIM hasn’t given up the good fight.
  3. There’s room for one more at the top of the smartphone pyramid.
  4. The firm, and ultimately, BlackBerry, may yet still be able to pull itself up by its bootstraps.
  5. A buyout could keep the BlackBerry afloat, too.

See the reasons Venkatraman gives behind each point on his list at the Boston Daily blog post “Your Blackberry Isn’t Dead (Yet).”

Stephen Davidson in Huffington Post on “The Supreme Court and Health Care Reform”

June 25th, 2012 in Faculty, Markets, Public Policy & Law, News

09-1019-DAVIDSON-025The Huffington Post recently featured the opinion piece “The Supreme Court and Health Care Reform,” by Boston University School of Management’s Stephen M. Davidson, author of the recent book Still Broken: Understanding the U.S. Health Care System.

Davidson writes,

Even close Supreme Court watchers are reluctant to predict what the justices will decide about the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). In this relative calm before the rhetoric inevitably escalates—no matter what the decision is—it might be useful to review the case.

First, no one disagrees that the health insurance market is interstate commerce. Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution says that “The Congress shall have Power… To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes… ” The final provision of that section gives Congress the power “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers… “

So, since health insurance is interstate commerce, and Congress has the power not only to regulate it, but also to make all laws that are “necessary and proper” for executing its power, why isn’t that the end of it?

Read the full piece on the Huffington Post.

Three Faculty Promoted to Full Professorships

June 14th, 2012 in Faculty, Finance, Information Systems, Marketing, New Faculty/Promoted, News, Operations & Technology Management, School

The School of Management at Boston University  is delighted to announce that three faculty members have been promoted to full Professor, effective September 1, 2012: Chrysanthos Dellarocas (Information Systems), Susan Fournier (Marketing), and Erol Peköz (Operations and Technology Management).

Dellarocas Chris Dellarocas
Professor of Information Systems 


Forthcoming Article
Dellarocas, C. (Forthcoming 2012). Double Marginalization in Performance-based Advertising: Implications and Solutions. Management Science.

Chrysanthos (Chris) Dellarocas is one of the world’s most cited scholars in the fields of online reputation and social media. His research interests also include collective intelligence, online advertising, and the economics of media industries. He has published articles in Management Science, Journal of Management Information Systems, Information Systems Research, Sloan Management Review, and other journals.

He is a senior editor of Information Systems Research and an associate editor of Management Science. Dellarocas is also the recipient of numerous teaching, funding, and merit awards, including the National Science Foundation’s CAREER award. He holds 9 patents and is co-founder and advisor of a number of companies in the technology space.

Dellarocas holds Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Diploma in Electrical Engineering from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece. Prior to Boston University, he taught at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and at the University of Maryland’s R. H. Smith School of Business. Before pursuing an academic career he was a management consultant with Accenture and McKinsey.

FournierSusan Fournier
Professor of Marketing 


Forthcoming Book
Fournier, S., Breazeale, M., & and Fetscherin, M. (Eds.) (2012). Consumer-Brand Relationships: Theory and Practice. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Susan Fournier is credited with founding the brand relationships sub-field in marketing. Her research explores the creation and capture of value through branding and brand relationships. Current projects investigate the links between brand strategy and shareholder value, brand co-creation and consumer-generated advertising, the management of person-brands, the power and process of brand parodies, metrics for brand strength and brand community health measurement, attachment style effects on brand relationships, and the lived experiences of select brand relationships such as flings and adversaries.

Fournier has received six best article awards for her published work, including the Long-term Contribution Award in consumer research. She is also the author of many best-selling Harvard case studies on branding and a long-standing member of the Editorial Boards of Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Relationship Marketing, Journal of Business-to-Business Marketing, Marketing Theory, and more recently, Journal of Marketing.

Fournier holds a Ph.D. in Marketing from the University of Florida, an M.S. in Marketing from The Pennsylvania State University, and a
 B.S.B.A. from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Prior to joining Boston University, she served on the faculties of Harvard Business School and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. She also held a Vice-President/Director position at Young & Rubicam Advertising and served in market research roles at Polaroid Corporation and Yankelovich Clancy Shulman.

PekozErol Erol Peköz
Professor of Operations and Technology Management 


Recent Article
Peköz, E., Röllin, A., & Ross, N. (2011). Degree Asymptotics with Rates for Preferential Attachment Random Graphs. Annals of Applied Probability.

Working in the areas of applied probability and statistics, Erol Peköz studies stochastic problems in operations management and finance, include queuing models for congestion in operations, theory of rare events, Monte Carlo simulation, risk management, and statistical models for health care provider profiling.

His work has appeared in Annals of Probability, Bernoulli, Journal of Applied Probability, Medical Care, and Statistics in Medicine, among other journals. He has conducted research funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; and the Veterans Health Administration. He has also worked as a consultant for Pfizer and the Accenture Institute for High Performance Business.

Peköz holds an M.S. and Ph.D. in Operations Research from University of California, Berkeley, and a B.S. from Cornell University. He has taught on the faculty at Harvard University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California, Berkeley, where he received an award for outstanding instruction.  He was also honored with the Broderick Prize for Teaching at Boston University.

David Weil on Frontline Discusses Labor Standards and Cell Tower Deaths

June 7th, 2012 in Faculty, Markets, Public Policy & Law, News

Exploring How Fissuring in the Industry Puts Workers in Danger

Watch Cell Tower Deaths on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Boston University School of Management’s David Weil recently appeared on Frontline, as part of a film titled Cell Tower Deaths, to discuss subcontractors and lapses in labor standards leading to a spate of fatalities in this industry.

Weil is an Everett W. Lord Distinguished Faculty Scholar and a professor in the Markets, Public Policy and Law Department, as well as a renowned expert on labor law and transparency issues. In this Frontline segment, Weil explains that part of the danger in the cell tower industry stems from fissuring: the separation of the actual workers, through subcontracting, from the major firms that dominate the labor market and are supposed to enforce its safety standards.

In a related online interview with Weil, “How Subcontracting Affects Worker Safety,” Frontline reports,

There’s been a change in the American labor market over the past few decades, as more workers—many of them young, inexperienced and willing to work for low wages—are now employed by a vast network of subcontractors that affects not just industries like tower climbers and construction, but also the health care, logistics, retail and service industries.

Frontline interviewed David Weil, an economics professor at Boston University who has studied the trend, as part of the film “Cell Tower Deaths” to understand who’s responsible for worker health and safety in this new model, and what changes we need to make sure that workers are protected. Here are some excerpts from that interview, conducted on March 14, 2012:

“In fissured employment situations, the definition of the employer has become very fuzzy….The lead company can argue that they are not the direct employer, and therefore not responsible for conditions that might play out in bad ways in terms of injuries and fatalities.”

How would you describe subcontracting to someone who doesn’t understand the nuances of the economy?

Subcontracting in general is where one company will take a piece of work and give it to some other business organization to carry out that work. So it’s an old, old way of doing business, and common in industries like construction. … Subcontracting used to be just something particular to a very small number of industries. But in the last 25 years, 30 years, it’s grown in scope … Virtually in most major industries in this country now there are pieces of subcontracting.

The more subcontracting, the more ‘fissuring’ of the work, the greater the risk for health and safety at the bottom of those chains.

How can you measure this change?

Subcontracting is being tracked well in certain industries where it’s been in place for many years.  … But overall, subcontracting is not well accounted for in our national statistics.

Why is this a problem?

We need to be able to track it better because it has very serious consequences on things at the workplace level like health and safety…. The reality is, in many industries, that lead employer has pushed off a lot of that [work that is typically governed by health and safety laws] to subordinate organizations. And those subordinate organizations are often operating in a much more competitive environment. … So the more competitive, the more volatile those lower levels of business, the harder it’s going to be to achieve the kinds of health and safety practices that many of our workplace laws aspire to have in place. …

What can that law, or the government department charged with enforcing it—the Occupational Safety and Health Administration—do to regulate subcontracting?

[I]n subcontracted relationships, in fissured employment situations, the definition of the employer has become very fuzzy. … In the way we have traditionally thought about our OSHA laws, the lead company can argue that they are not the direct employer, and therefore not responsible for conditions that might play out in bad ways in terms of injuries and fatalities. And in the tradition of how we have enforced that law and thought about that law, they’re right. … They actually do play a very major role in setting the overall structure of how work is undertaken, and therefore arguably have a much greater role in making sure that work is carried out in a safe way. But that’s not the way our laws are written.

Read the full interview, or watch the film Cell Tower Deaths, a collaboration between Frontline and ProPublica.