Worker Institute Research

Undergraduates contributing to projects on immigration and other issues
Worker Institute Student Research Fellows
Tuesday, September 19, 2017

This fall, The Worker Institute at Cornell begins the fourth year of its undergraduate fellows program.

Research projects for 2017-2018 revolve around the theme of workers and worker organizations responding to the challenges of the 21st century workplace.

Project outcomes are aimed at a range of audiences including unions, worker centers, immigrant rights advocates, academics and the public.

Over the past four years, the program has grown to a dozen projects annually.

“When Professor Lowell Turner and I launched this program four years ago, we couldn’t have imagined how big it would become,” said Associate Professor Kate Griffith.

“This semester, we have 22 fellows working on about a dozen research projects involving worker organizations and workers who experience precarious working conditions.”

A third of the projects deal with the experiences of low-wage immigrant workers.

“In light of recent events, it is a crucial time to consider how immigration policies intersect with workplace experiences,” Griffith said.

Gabrielle Lifsec ’19 is among the fellows who say the projects help them tackle real-life work problems.

“The Worker Institute satisfies my long-standing desire to engage in projects that drive meaningful social action around immigrant and worker rights, and to work alongside ILR professors,” she said.

Another benefit for fellows is collaboration with professors and learning research skills that can be used after graduation.

Samantha Romero ’19 said, “I'm most excited to add value to my professor's research and to improve my research skills, as I plan on attending law school and know this is a significant component of that experience, as well.”

Fellows build both technical and research skills through the program, according to Hannah Cho ’19.

“From a technical point of view, I have been able to work with software, such as Atlas TI, that allows me to analyze qualitative data,” Cho said.

“From an observational researcher's perspective, I have been able to identify the wheres, hows and whats of the gap between the Mexican Consulate and the groups and constituents it is supposed to serve.”

“Being a Worker Institute fellow has allowed me to work for a cause I am passionate about providing opportunities for immigrant workers to speak out and know their rights in the workplace,” Cho said.

Laura Martinez ’19 said her research on worker centers “hits close to home.”

“These centers are largely used by low-income people of color and immigrants. When I learned exactly what worker centers are, I realized that lots of my family members had taken advantage of these services while I was growing up.”

“I didn't understand what the center was when I was young, but now I'm doing research on the same centers my family had benefited from.”

Worker Institute research on issues such as labor rights and immigrant labor are important to her, Martinez said. “I hope to gain more knowledge on these areas in order to expand on my career interests and how I hope to affect these issues in my future.”

Student participation in Worker Institute research, said Professor Ileen DeVault, institute academic director, “is crucial to moving forward our mission of fighting inequality in our society through advancing worker rights and collective representation.”

This year’s projects, listed by title and student, and faculty and staff advisers, include:

  • “Mobilizing against Inequality: A Case Study Research Approach to Immigrant Workers and the Labor Movement,” Devon Gilliams ’18, Gabriella Lifsec ’19, Michelle Zhao ’19; Patricia Campos Medina, Shannon Gleeson, Prerna Sampat, Lowell Turner
  • “Day Laborers’ Research and Education Project in NYC,” Odalis Flores ’19; Maria Figueroa
  • “Immigration Status and the Nature of Work,” Vivien Vazquez ’18; Shannon Gleeson, Kate Griffith
  • “Transnational Labor Advocacy & Latino Immigrant Rights,” Hannah Cho ’19, Clady Corona ’19, Michael Snyder ’20; Shannon Gleeson
  • “Men at Work” (and Family): Caregiving Responsibilities Among the Working Class,” Aimee La France ’20, Angela Uribe ’20; Ileen DeVault, KC Wagner
  • “Health Hazard Manual for Cosmetologists, Hairdressers, Beauticians, and Barbers,” Andrew Cartwright ’19; Nellie Brown
  • “Labor Leading on Climate: A Climate Jobs Program for New York State,” Amanda Cort ’19, Alex Ma ’18; Lara Skinner
  • “Who Funds Worker Centers?” Laura Martinez ’19, Samantha Romero ’19; Kate Griffith
  • “Who Controls Working Conditions in Fast Food Franchising?” Caro Achar ’18,  Deandra Fike ’18; Kate Griffith
  • “New York Arts and Entertainment Worker Resource Center,” Gabe Diamond ’18; Sally Alvarez
  • “Labor Roundtable,” Xavier Eddy ’19, Erik Rivas ’19; Kate Bronfenbrenner, Ileen DeVault, Risa Lieberwitz
  • “Global Supply Chains,” Julie Green ’19; Sarosh Kuruvilla
  • “Performance Management and Stress in Call Centers,” Michael Hall ’19; Virginia Doellgast.