The Concept of Featherbedding: Why would an employer engage in this behavior?

What is the concept of featherbedding? Why would an employer engage in this behavior?

Featherbedding is a term commonly used in labor relations and refers to the practice of artificially inflating the number of workers or creating unnecessary job positions within a company. This practice often results in increased labor costs and reduced productivity. In this article, we will explore the concept of featherbedding in more detail and delve into the motivations behind why an employer might engage in such behavior.

Understanding the Concept of Featherbedding:

Featherbedding is essentially a strategy employed by certain labor unions or workers to protect their members’ jobs or to secure additional employment opportunities. It involves negotiating and enforcing work rules that require excessive staffing levels, limit the use of technological advancements, or impose unnecessary job classifications. By artificially increasing the number of workers required for a task or operation, featherbedding aims to ensure that more people are employed, even if their work may not be strictly necessary.

Why would an Employer Engage in Featherbedding?

  1. Job Security for Union Members: One of the primary motivations for engaging in featherbedding is to protect the jobs of union members. By inflating the number of employees required for a particular task, the union aims to secure employment for more workers, thus reducing the likelihood of job cuts or layoffs. From the union’s perspective, this ensures the continued payment of union dues and helps maintain its membership base.
  2. Maximizing Union Power: Featherbedding can also be seen as a way for labor unions to exert influence and bargaining power over employers. By creating unnecessary job positions or imposing restrictive work rules, unions may increase their leverage during negotiations. This practice can lead to increased control over work conditions, wages, and other benefits, strengthening the union’s overall position within the organization.
  3. Protection against Technological Advancements: Employers may engage in featherbedding to limit the introduction of labor-saving technologies or automation. By inflating the workforce, they can resist or delay the implementation of new technologies that could potentially reduce the need for human labor. This motivation often stems from concerns about potential job losses or the need for retraining workers.
  4. Economic and Political Considerations: In some cases, employers may engage in featherbedding due to external economic or political pressures. This can include fulfilling political obligations to certain interest groups or maintaining a delicate balance in regions heavily dependent on specific industries. Such actions may be taken to appease unions, local communities, or politicians, even if they are not economically efficient or productivity-enhancing.

Impact and Criticisms

While featherbedding may provide temporary job security for workers, it can have detrimental effects on productivity, competitiveness, and the overall economy. The unnecessary labor costs incurred by employers can limit investments in innovation, expansion, or employee benefits. Critics argue that featherbedding ultimately hampers economic growth and efficiency by impeding the adoption of new technologies and hindering labor market flexibility.


Featherbedding involves artificially inflating the workforce or creating unnecessary job positions within a company. It is typically driven by union motivations to protect jobs, maximize bargaining power, resist technological advancements, or address economic and political considerations. Although it may offer short-term job security for union members, featherbedding can have negative consequences for productivity and economic growth. Balancing the interests of workers, unions, and employers while maintaining a competitive and efficient labor market remains a complex challenge in labor relations.

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