Researchers from MIT Sloan and Cornell ILR School Win Grant for Study of Worker Organizing

Thomas A. Kochan (pictured above), a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Kate Bronfenbrenner, Director of Labor Education Research at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, have been awarded $225,000 in grant funding from the research network WorkRise to conduct a multi-industry study of worker organizing efforts in the U.S. and their outcomes.

Kochan and Bronfenbrenner’s project, “Achieving Greater Worker Voice, Equity, and Mobility: A Multi-Industry Study of Organizing Efforts and Their Outcomes,” is one of 22 research projects to receive funding in a round of grants announced on January 12, 2022 by WorkRise, a Washington, D.C.-based research-to-action network on jobs, workers, and mobility based at the Urban Institute.

WorkRise received 175 applications for this round of funding, and is awarding a total of $2.4 million in research grants to the 22 teams selected, for research that will inform and drive action towards strengthening economic security and mobility for workers earning low wages in the U.S. labor market, with an emphasis on addressing equity gaps affecting Black workers and other workers of color, immigrants, and women. The awards fund research across a wide range of research topics, institutions, and methodologies as well as academic disciplines.

Bronfenbrenner and Kochan say their study will fill an important information gap about current worker organizing efforts. “In addition to contributing to the academic literature, the results from our study of worker organizing will provide the public and policymakers with up-to-date information on the  nature, extent, and impacts of current labor organizing efforts in the United States,” said Bronfenbrenner, a Senior Lecturer at the ILR School. “These data are also crucial to workers, unions, and other worker organizations seeking to organize in the current environment.”

For each sector selected, the researchers plan to examine the sector’s economic context, including job standards and quality, corporate structures, and management strategies and beliefs; workers’ perceptions of and interest in labor organizations; recent worker organizing efforts; and the impact of those efforts on outcomes for workers, companies, and local communities.

“Our findings will be relevant to all who share an interest in rebuilding worker voice in the United States, ensuring stronger long-term economic and societal outcomes, and fostering equitable, inclusive, and productive labor-management relationships,” said Kochan, who is the Post-Tenure George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management at MIT Sloan and a member of the faculty of the MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research (IWER).  “We are grateful to WorkRise for its support of this important and timely research.”

Kochan and Bronfenbrenner’s research project also marks a first step in the launch of a new interdisciplinary network of labor market researchers called the Worker Empowerment Research Network (WERN) that the two scholars have formed with colleagues in order to study worker efforts to achieve greater voice and representation at work. WERN plans to focus especially closely on efforts pursued by workers of color, women, immigrants, and others who have faced exclusion, discrimination, or marginalization.  WERN, which already involves more than 30 faculty researchers from more than a dozen universities, as well as more than 20 graduate and undergraduate students, has reached an agreement to collaborate with the U.S. Department of Labor, possibly by co-hosting events to discuss research findings.

“The researchers engaged in WERN are committed both to bringing new knowledge to bear through careful research and to engaging the public and all stakeholders in dialogue on ways to strengthen and rebuild worker influence in the United States,” Kochan said.