Category Archives: Labor Studies

Labor Studies

Labor Studies offers graduate degree and certificate programs that examine the opportunities and challenges facing workers and their organizations. The program builds critical thinking, analytical, and leadership skills so that students become more effective advocates for workers’ rights and social justice. Learn more here.

New Labor Forum Highlights: March 5th, 2018

The New Labor Forum has a bi-weekly newsletter on current topics in labor, curated by the some of the most insightful scholars and activists in the labor world today. Check out some highlights from the latest edition below.

Recently released figures for 2017 from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal a reversal in the decades-long decline in unionization rates. For those who have watched with chagrin the downward slope of union density, this appears to be a welcome bright spot. But not so soon, cautions Glenn Perusek in an essay for New Labor Forum. After all, the uptick is a small one, he notes, and perhaps better explained by new hiring in already unionized workplaces, than by massive new union organizing. The data does show an increase in young workers represented by unions, as well as new gains in unionization in white collar fields, including journalism and academia. NLF Consulting Editor and CUNY Sociology Professor Ruth Milkman makes sense of these trends in a WNYC interview with Todd Zwillich, included here.

Anyone concerned about organized labor’s prospects has noticed the dark cloud on the horizon in the form of the Janus v. AFSCME case, currently pending before the Supreme Court. This case threatens a body blow to public sector unionism if, as expected, it manages to abolish the mandatory “agency fees” that workers who don’t join the union currently pay to the unions that must represent them and negotiate their contracts, regardless. In his forthcoming NLF  column, Organized Money: What Is Corporate America Thinking?, Max Fraser devotes his attention to the big money interests that instigated the Janus case, and presently stand poised with sophisticated campaigns to convert public sector workers into “free riders” through opting out of union membership and associated dues. The right-wing foundations that have long pushed to weaken public sector unions by overturning the “agency fee” may, however, find they’ve gotten more than they’ve bargained for. So argues NLF regular Shaun Richman in a recent piece for The Washington Post. He suggests that the deal that brought about the “agency fee,” also contributed to labor peace, in the form of no-strike clauses and exclusive representation. In the post-Janus labor chaos Richman predicts unionists may find new possibilities for militant action, while conservatives may rue the day they brought it about.

Table of Contents

  1. U.S. Union Membership Data in Perspective/ Glenn Perusek, New Labor Forum
  2. How Unions Fracture Along Economic Lines/ Todd Zwillich with Ruth Milkman, The Takeaway, WNYC, Feb 1, 2018
  3. Organized Money: What is Corporate America Thinking?-Freedom’s Janus Face/Max Fraser, New Labor Forum
  4. If the Supreme Court rules against unions, conservatives won’t like what happens next/ Shaun Richman, The Washington Post, Mar 1, 2018 

Photo by Phil Roeder via flickr (CC-BY)

Stephanie Luce Interviews Annelise Orleck for Jacobin

With Janus placing public sector unions on the chopping block while West Virginia teachers stage a wildcat strike for their rights, what’s the right way to feel about the future of labor? Is the picture as bleak as we’ve been made to think, or might there be glimmers of hope portending a brighter future ahead?

Murphy Professor Stephanie Luce recently interviewed historian Annelise Orleck for Jacobin. Orleck’s new book  “We Are All Fast-Food Workers Now”: The Global Uprising against Poverty Wages is the result of her interviews with 140 workers around the world. The picture she paints offers room for some optimism and hope amid it all.

An excerpt from the interview is below. Read the full interview at Jacobin.

Stephanie Luce: You give quite a few inspirational stories, but most of the people you write about are living in pretty difficult conditions — whether it’s Walmart and fast-food workers in the United States, garment workers in Cambodia, or farmers in India. Some of the people you write about have been beaten, jailed — labor activists have been harassed, fired, kidnapped, and murdered. How are they winning?

Continue reading Stephanie Luce Interviews Annelise Orleck for Jacobin

Welcoming the Spring 2018 Union Semester Class

Nadja Barlera

Born in New York and raised in many places, Nadja is a recent graduate from USC with a degree in English. She was a community and labor organizer with the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation and service worker unions on campus. She is excited to join the Union Semester and learn about the labor movement in New York.


Zane Markosian

Zane lives in Northampton, MA and is in his third year at Oberlin College where he is studying Politics and History. He’s been most interested in classes relating to economic inequality and power in America. He’s excited to be a part of Union Semester because he wants to spend time gaining a real-world perspective on these issues.


Kristina Lilley

A Portland, Maine native with a heart for serving others, Kristina is a recent graduate of the University of Southern Maine with a B.A. in Sociology and a minor in Biology. Her passion for social justice was heightened after her time spent overseas serving in the mission field. Kristina is eager to leverage all the experiences that will be earned by participating in her upcoming internship. She will complete her Master’s degree in labor studies this fall and plans to help advance the existing workforce and create a lasting impact within her community.


Jake Appet

Originally from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Jake Appet is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where he studied creative writing. After spending the last five years as a professional filmmaker, he has shifted his energy toward electoral organizing and activism. He  volunteered extensively for two DSA-endorsed City-Council candidates, Khader El-Yateem and Jabari Brisport, and continues to work on organizing efforts with the central Brooklyn branch of the Democratic Socialists of America. He is looking forward to exploring a new career path within the labor movement.


Jose Sanchez

UFT Members Receive Tuition Assistantship for MA in Labor Studies at Murphy

During the Fall 2017 semester, the UFT presented its first annual tuition assistance award to four of its member-leaders to pursue a Master’s Degree in Labor Studies at the Murphy Institute, CUNY.  Paul Egan, UFT Political Director announced this annual award: — $1,000 to go to five UFT members — at a Chapter Leader meeting this past summer.  Applause to the UFT for their foresight and congratulations to the first awardees, Mr. Dexter Braithwaite, Mr. Brandon Davis, and Mr. Robert Hardmond and Mr. James Van Nort.  These UFT teacher/students have expressed a motivation to enhance their contributions to their students and their Union.  These are their stories: Continue reading UFT Members Receive Tuition Assistantship for MA in Labor Studies at Murphy

Photos and Video: Janus and Beyond: the Future of Public Sector Unions

Many thanks to everyone who supported our recent conference, “Janus and Beyond: the Future of Public Sector Unions,” held November 17th and sponsored by the Cornell Worker Institute and the Murphy Institute at CUNY. Over 170 union activists, leaders, staff and allies attended, coming from over 40 labor locals, councils and federations.

The energy in the rooms was palpable throughout the day. Our morning speakers underscored the urgency of the moment we face by educating us about the where the current attacks are coming from and sharing their firsthand experience of the aftermath of Harris v Quinn in Washington and “right-to-work on steroids” in Wisconsin. In the afternoon we turned to the nuts-and-bolts of best practices: preparing for Janus and going forward in a right-to-work future. Speakers shared their successes and challenges, and workshops allowed participants to drill down in the particulars of communication, member-to-member organizing, legislative campaigns, new approaches to bargaining, and more.

We were grateful to be joined by Janella Hinds, Secretary-Treasurer, NYC Central Labor Council, and UFT Vice President, who opened our conference; City Council Member I. Daneek Miller, Chair, NYC Council, Committee on Labor and Civil Service, who spoke with us during lunch; and Tony Utano, President, TWU Local 100, who shared closing remarks.


Announcing: The Murphy Institute Research Awards Program

Submission deadline:  January 5, 2018


Send complete applications to:

The Murphy Institute’s Research Awards Program supports original qualitative and quantitative research by CUNY scholars on issues relevant to the labor and social justice movements, both nationally and locally.

Researchers from all academic disciplines are invited to apply. The Awards Program is open to CUNY faculty and Level 3 Ph.D. students (excluding those with appointments at the Murphy Institute). Applicants must submit a CV, a research proposal no longer than 750 words, a budget (up to $10,000) and budget justification. Grant period is March 1, 2018 to February 28, 2019. Awards will be made from tax-levy funds. Work proposed and budgets must be consistent with CUNY policies, including the multiple position policy. All expenses detailed in the budget must be consistent with University policy for the use of tax levy funds (see CUNY Purchasing Guidelines). Proposal award may not replace current funding sources. Funds may not be used to cover faculty release time or other full-time staffing, but may include compensation for part-time research support and fee-for service costs such as transcription.

Proposals should specify the research question, hypotheses, methodology, and the type of publication or other deliverable the applicant plans to produce (beyond the research paper mentioned below). The proposal should also highlight the proposed project’s benefits to the labor and social justice movements, and a dissemination plan. IRB approval will be required for research involving human subjects. Please refer to the CUNY IRB guidelines. Documentation of IRB approval will be required before funds are disbursed to applicants selected for awards. Award recipients will be required to submit a 20-25 page research paper and may be asked to make a public presentation under Murphy auspices.

A committee of Murphy’s full-time and consortial faculty will make the final selection of awardees. Although full consideration will be given to any labor-related topic, preference will be given to proposals that address the three topic areas described below:

Organizing Strategies

With union density rates now below 11 percent, union organizing is often seen as a prerequisite for success in the struggle for social and economic justice. But employer opposition to organizing is formidable, and the political and legal environment presents many other challenges. What is the future for union organizing in this context? What organizing strategies, models, and techniques are most effective in the 21st Century?

Worker Centers and Alt-Labor

There are now over 200 “worker centers” in the United States, which are engaged in non-traditional forms of labor organizing and advocacy, focused on low-wage and immigrant workers in sectors where traditional unions are absent. What are the strengths and weaknesses of worker centers? Under what conditions do they
succeed? How have they influenced the larger labor movement?

Pay Equity

Although pay equity has been on the labor movement and public policy agenda for decades, it remains an elusive goal. Women working full-time, year-round still earn only 80 percent of what men are paid. That is a narrower gap than in the past – in the 1960s it was 59 percent – but much more is needed. Racial disparities in pay also persist. What can be done to address these inequalities? How do they vary across demographic groups? What can organized labor and social justice organizations do to improve the situation?

Awards will be announced in February 2018.

Photo by Joe Brusky via flickr (CC-BY-NC)