Course Details

This course is for students who work or want to work in social change organizations that strive to make and keep corporations accountable, including primarily labor unions but also workers’ centers, environmental justice groups, and community-based organizations. It prepares students to engage corporations by teaching them, with hands-on techniques, how to research corporate ownership, finance, organization, and power.

The course is for students who want to learn about and contribute to the innovation currently taking place in union organizing and bargaining across the United States. For example, some recent successful campaigns have been multinational and multi-union. Other campaigns have drawn heavily on rank-and-file community-based action. A growing number of campaigns have targeted occupations and industries that either fall outside the NLRB model or are specifically denied legal employee status. Recent campaign victories include:

  • Low-wage workers in the fast-food and retail industries have taken on the world's largest and most-well-known transnational firms with the most basic demands: a living wage of $15 an hour, safe working conditions, and a union. They have gone on strike and engaged in civil disobedience in cities around the globe and, in doing so, have changed the national discourse about corporate and government responsibility for workers, and have raised wages for millions of workers across the US.
  • In January 2017, workers at Huffington post represented by Writer's Guild of America-East (WGAE) ratified their first contract, capping a string of organizing victories for workers in digital media at firms such as VICE, Gizmodo Media Group (formerly Gawker) Salon, Fusion, The Root, and Think Progress.
  • In the midst of a contentious political climate, in the last year UNITE HERE won successful organizing campaigns to represent a combined total of 600 employees at Trumps Hotels in Las Vegas and Washington DC.
  • In January 2015, Coca-Cola workers in Guatemala became 100 percent organized in a multi-union campaign under the leadership of the Global Union Federation for the food industry (IUF). This followed on the heels of a similar IUF-led victory in Pakistan. In both cases, the workers, organizers, and the Global Union had to overcome enormous hostility and repression.
  • Non-traditional union organizing continues among farm workers, taxi drivers, models, restaurant workers, and other workers who do not easily fit under a labor board model. Domestic Workers United gaining employee status in New York and California and collective bargaining rights in New York after a historic struggle. In September 2016, farmworkers employed by agribusiness giant Samuka won recognition and collective bargaining rights with Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), after a three year boycott of Samuka and its major distributors and customers, Driscoll berries and Häagen Dazs strawberry ice cream.

These victories came about through a combination of grassroots rank-and-file mobilizing, rank-and-file leadership development, and escalating actions in the workplace and broader community. However, fundamental to all these campaigns was careful strategic research.

Because the labor movement faces a shortage of strategic researchers, this course aims to increase the supply of people who understand both how to research corporate structure and power and to develop union campaign strategies. To do that, the course provides hands-on research training, teaching students how to investigate corporate ownership, finance, organization, and power. Students learn how to analyze the key relationships, profit centers, growth strategies, and decision makers that drive a particular corporation and shape its labor relations strategy. They also learn how unions can best respond to and capitalize on these characteristics through comprehensive organizing and bargaining campaigns.

The course uses a combination of teaching methods, including lecture, readings, discussion, small-group exercises, individual research activities, group research projects, and group presentations. Students receive in-depth hands-on training in the online and library research tools required to conduct strategic corporate research. They work through a series of case studies dealing with diverse firms and industries, and they conduct in-depth research on an actual firm in the context of union organizing or bargaining.

Regular & Advanced Tracks

The course will have two tracks—regular and advanced. The advanced track includes an additional research and writing assignment. Given the limited time available while students are here on campus, both regular and advanced students will be sent books and a course pack several weeks before the course takes place to give them an opportunity to complete all the reading before they arrive. In addition to reading assignments, short written exercises and class presentations are completed while the class is in session. Students taking the advanced track are required to conduct independent research and write a paper of twenty-five to thirty pages, summarizing comprehensive corporate research and analysis for a designated company. The final paper is due six weeks after course completion.  Any advanced-track students currently enrolled in a college or university who are interested in gaining credit for the course can work with the director to help set up independent study credit with their school.

Students interested in pursuing strategic corporate research positions within unions are encouraged to take the advanced track so that they will have the additional experience of researching an actual corporation and have a completed strategic research report to show prospective union employers; but only if they can commit the time to complete the paper.