The source of union opposition is not the incentive wage system itself, but the use of the system to exacerbate worker competition.
While cannery operators expressed great interest in developing mechanical innovations that would increase the flow-through of produce per worker in preparation tasks, they demonstrated little interest in using the incentive wage system to monitor and improve their in-place preparation production process or labor organization.
And what effect has the institutionalization of labor unions had on the prevalence of incentive wage systems? This article attempts to clarify some of the conceptual issues involved in these questions and then examines a specific case study, the decline of the piece-rate wage system in the California fruit and vegetable canning industry.
According to historical accounts, the prevalence of incentive wage systems increased markedly with the rise of modern industrial capitalism in the second half of the nineteenth century.
The overall industrial relations system and its historical evolution are extremely complex, and investigation of the prevalence of incentive wage systems is hampered by the lack of reliable data, especially comparable time-series data over the long term.
These difficulties have been recognized to some extent in the literature on incentive wage systems, but other factors have received less consideration.
Since the late 1950s, incentive wage systems, while still allowed by the union contracts, have been used only in rare instances, such as when machine production cannot accommodate unique or defective produce and turn-of-the-century hand techniques must be employed.54
Finally, with the development of fully integrated, continuousflow production technology, incentive wage systems were almost totally eliminated from the California canning industry.
Generalization from a single case study to the historical behavior of incentive wage systems is obviously risky.
Roughly comparable surveys of the overall prevalence of incentive wage systems in manufacturing industries were conducted by the National Industrial Conference Board for the years 1924, 1935, and 1939.