Worker activism in the U.S. has been growing in the past few years. In December 2022, the Worker Empowerment Research Network (WERN), a new multi-university academic group of faculty and graduate students, and the MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research (IWER) brought together a select group of more than 60 leaders from business, labor unions, other worker advocacy groups, government, and academia for a dialogue on this upsurge in worker organizing and activism occurring across the country. The event, which took place in Cambridge, Mass., included both research presentations and small-group discussions, as well as lunchtime remarks by U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.
This report includes brief highlights of the research presented on five topics: 1) the relationship between unions and inequality; 2) the growth of worker centers and other worker advocacy groups; 3) business executives’ views of worker activism and unions; 4) the results of surveys of frontline workers in five industries; and 5) a study of union organizing. The report also highlights some of the key themes that emerged in the discussions that took place during the event, as well as the authors’ conclusions and questions going forward.
The report was authored by: Thomas A. Kochan, the George Maverick Bunker Professor, Emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management and a faculty member in the MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research; Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research and a senior lecturer in labor relations at Cornell University’s ILR School; Janice R. Fine, a professor of labor studies and employment relations at the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University and director of the workplace justice lab@RU within the School of Management and Labor Relations; Suresh Naidu, a professor of economics and international and public affairs at Columbia University; John Ahlquist, the associate dean and a professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego, as well as director of the school’s Pacific Leadership Fellows Program; and Martha E. Mangelsdorf, director of strategic communications for the MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research.