Mission and Scope
The Worker Institute at Cornell, based at the ILR School, is a
broad forum for research and education on contemporary labor
issues. The institute applies innovative thinking and a
problem-solving approach to the workplace, economy and
society, bringing together in collaborative projects researchers,
educators and students with practitioners in labor, business,
and policymaking. We need this combined expertise and
engagement to confront growing economic and social inequalities,
in the interests of working people and their families.
Why is this so important at this moment in history? We believe that collective representation to promote workers' rights is a core element of a vibrant democracy and a sustainable society. Union representation, for example, enables workers to achieve greater equality and democratic participation at work, including decent incomes and safe working conditions. Alternative forms of representation, such as worker centers in the U.S. and codetermination in Europe, also offer rich channels for the promotion of employee interests. Yet in recent decades, collective representation and other workers' rights in the U.S. and elsewhere, in all shapes and forms, have been seriously weakened. We believe that the growing concentration of wealth and power that accompanies the erosion of collective representation undermines our democracy.
In the United States, we have witnessed the growth of low-wage, precarious workforces and an expansion of "union avoidance" in the private sector, and more recently legislative challenges in the public sector to long-established workplace rights and representation. We see a clear connection between the decline of collective representation, the erosion of workers' rights and protections, the stagnation of average wages, and the unprecedented upward redistribution of wealth in America that has led us into deep economic crisis. In other countries, in both developed and emerging economies in a context of global liberalization, we see similar problems, including growing inequality and challenges to basic human and workplace rights.
The Worker Institute's research, education, and public engagement will focus on central themes that address the interests of working families, including the revitalization of workers' rights and collective representation in a more sustainable society. In all areas, we emphasize innovative ideas, strategies and policies. We start with six primary themes: strategy and leadership development for organizations promoting representation; economic and environmental sustainability to create jobs while bringing together worker and environmental interests; workplace diversity and equity; problems and strategies for precarious workers who lack employment security; healthcare service delivery that brings together the interests of patients and healthcare workers; and international collective action. Other compelling themes that will shape the Institute's work include immigrant rights and representation, youth and the labor movement, alternative forms of representation, and the rights and representation of public employees.
The Worker Institute at Cornell emerges not as a competitor but as a collaborator and willing partner with other institutes and organizations promoting similar values. In all of our activities – in research projects, data collection, colloquia, conferences, classes, publications, a dynamic and accessible website and blog – we seek to unleash the creative energies of faculty, staff, students, practitioners and collaborators at other institutions, as we address problems facing workers and their families in today's challenging circumstances.
Lowell Turner, Academic Director
The Worker Institute at Cornell
September 12, 2012