Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner reports on her international projects

Discusses Global Unions research and teaching on multinational corporate research methods
Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner reports on her international projects
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
  • The Changing Climate for Union Organizing at the Turn of the Millennium
  • Global Unions research

"The Changing Climate for Union Organizing at the Turn of the Millennium" is an expansion and follow-up on past research I have done on organizing in the US, where this time I am looking at organizing in every sector of the economy, public, private, card check, NLRB, RLA, ALRB with a total sample size of approximately 2000.

The study is being conducted at the request of the House and Senate Labor Committees to inform the debate on the Employee Free Choice Act. The study is being conducted through a combination of using the Freedom of information act to collect hard copies of unfair labor practice documents for ever case in our sample where charges were filed under each of the labor law regimes, doing on line research on company ownership structure and financial condition, and then in-depth survey's and follow-up phone interviews with the lead organizer of each campaign in our sample.

From all sources combined we are able to put together an extremely rich data set on company and union characteristics, bargaining unit demographics, organizing environment, employer behavior, union strategies, organizer background, and election and first contract outcome and first contract content analysis.

Phase II of this study, "Global Unions Research," which we plan to start in 2010, pending funding, will involve ethnographic studies at a cross-section large transnational firms in our organizing sample for each major industrial sector (manufacturing, retail, public, transportation, communication, warehouse and distribution, services) looking at organizing campaigns at branches or subsidiaries of those same firms in Brazil, Mexico, Korea, Thailand, China, India, and South Africa in order to learn more about differences in union and employer behavior, bargaining unit demographics, between the US and the Global South as well as the potential for cross-border linkages.

As part of this effort in-depth strategic corporate research reports will be prepared on each of the target companies. At the end of the study we hope to have small international conference with representatives from each country.

In addition the organizing study involves several other international components. Firstly, from the start of this project we met with scholars in Canada, the UK, Australia and Ireland to share research models. Based on those discussions Rob Hickey in Canada and Daryn Snell in Australia are each launching their own organizing studies based on specific organizing questions in their countries. In addition in the UK the decision was made to move forward with a strategic corporate research training program at the Metropolitan University of London to build the capacity to make strategic organizing more of a possibility. These scholars all plan to assist with the ethnographies in Phase II of our study.

Furthermore, this research also allows us to build on our earlier work on the impact of trade and investment policy on workers, wages, and union organizing - a series of studies starting in the mid 1986 where I have looked at the impact of outsourcing and threats of outsourcing in the US and around the world on union organizing activity, wages, employment and how that has escalated with the expansion of a neo-liberal trade agenda. In this organizing study we collect data on corporate ownership structure, plant closing and plant closing threats before and after the election. We collect detailed data on the nature of the threats, and the kinds of companies where the threats are more likely to occur. Then we are able to compare trends on the nature and impact of plant closing and outsourcing threats, and actual closings over time.

Anything else you might want to share with the ILR community about yourself or your international research?

Because of the Global Unions Conference that I conducted in 2006 and my book that came out of it I am in constant contact with unions and scholars from around the world. One of my roles coming out of the conference has been to mentor young scholars doing research in international labor research. I have helped several of the scholars coming out of the conference find faculty jobs at major universities and turn their dissertations in to books or their conference papers into refereed journal articles. And I am working with unions and universities around the world in helping build greater capacity for strategic corporate research by either inviting them to come learn in our program or mentoring them as they do the research themselves.

For students interested in learning more on this topic Professor Bronfenbrenner teaches the following courses:

  • ILR CB 618 Advanced Issues in Collective Bargaining: Theory and Practice.  This course focuses a great deal on bargaining with multinational corporations and cross-border campaigns from both a US and an international union perspective.
  • ILR CB 687 An Introduction to Labor Research.  This is a social science research methods course that for the first half of the course teaches qualitative and quantitative research methods useful for anyone planning to do research about workers, unions, the workplace, or labor policy. The second half the course teaches strategic corporate research tools to help them do research on the ownership structure, growth strategies, and financial condition of the world's largest publicly and privately held corporations.
  • ILR CB 209 Work and Labor in the Global Economy. 
  • ILR CB 400 Union Organizing.  This course deals with organizing which includes a significant amount of discussion about cross border organizing and organizing with multinational firms.
  • Each year Professor Bronfenbrenner teaches a one week intensive 1 1/2 credit summer school the second week of June every year, open to ILR Students on Strategic Corporate Research.