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The Next 75 Years, According to ILR Faculty

As the ILR School celebrated its 75th anniversary celebration, a number of faculty members answered the question, “How do you foresee your research contributing to the future of work, labor and employment?”

Their answers are below.

Alex Colvin, Ph.D. ‘99
Kenneth F. Kahn '69 Dean

Martin F. Scheinman ’76, MS ’76, Professor of Conflict Resolution
Labor Relations, Law, and History

My own research has explored how the expanding system of individual employment rights functions in the workplace. Although work is changing, we continue to see conflicts arising in the employment relationship and how these are resolved is central to the realization of people’s rights at work. In a global economy, there is much to learn from different national approaches to protecting labor and employment rights and resolving conflicts.

I have found in my own work that looking comparatively at other countries can help us think about what labor issues and possible policy responses we can think about in the US. More generally, I see change and conflict as enduring features of the future of work.

Diane Burton
Chair, Department of Human Resource Studies

ILR has always been able to see promising trends around work and the workplace. That the school has invested in my work on entrepreneurship and impact investing is testimony to our breadth and our desire to look out and understand the changing world of work.

Eli Friedman
Associate Professor
Chair, International & Comparative Labor

As the U.S.-China rivalry will increasingly shape the 21st century, the treatment of China's workers is of global concern. Rather than economy and geopolitics that prioritize the interests of elites, both countries should be working to bring down inequality and create labor regimes that result in a much more broad-based distribution of wealth. If this happens in China, it will have a massive impact on the economic relationship to the U.S. and the rest of the world, and create much greater possibilities to avoid the kind of zero-sum antagonism that has come to dominate the relationship.

Shannon Gleeson
Labor Relations, Law, and History

The future of work is one where the percentage of workers who are foreign born will likely continue to rise, where labor unions will represent fewer and fewer workers, and where the formal protections afforded workers will become increasingly thin as regulatory agencies are defunded and the workplace becomes increasingly fissured through outsourcing and the gig economy.

My research focuses on how some of the most vulnerable workers mobilize their rights, and the clearest conclusion is that labor and employment laws can no longer passively rely on worker claims to do the heavy work of regulating employer behavior.

And as we craft better protections on the job, we must also look to the various forms of social protection that have been eroded, including a truly meaningful social safety net that provides a livable income, universal healthcare, and the basic right to food and housing. In the midst of the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and centuries of structural racism in the United States, we can no longer simply point to the market and business sector to right these wrongs.

Michael Gold
Associate Professor
Labor Relations, Law and History

I have no talent for prediction. I do hope that an article I am working on will contribute to expanding workers' rights in the workplace. The article is about cases in which an employer allows workers to use the company's email, bulletin board, etc. for personal purposes (e.g., posting a notice of puppies for sale), but prohibits workers from using the same medium for union-related purposes (e.g., announcing a union meeting). The article will argue that this practice is discrimination under section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act.

Kate Griffith
Jean McKelvey-Alice Grant Professor

Stephen H. Weiss Junior Fellow
Chair, Department of Labor Relations, Law, & History

As we consider the future of work, I hope we can always consider how any new approach to regulating the workplace would affect low-wage workers. Moreover, we should always consider how racial injustice, gender inequality and punitive immigration policies intersect to shape the low-wage workplace. The New Deal’s exclusions of agricultural workers and domestic workers was not consistent with its broader agenda to address inequality of bargaining power between businesses and workers.

As we move into the next 75 years, we should remove unjust exclusions, but continue to endeavor to address the injustices that can flow from vast power differentials between businesses and low-wage workers.

Veronica Martínez-Matsuda
Associate Professor
Labor Relations, Law, and History

I think we can learn from historical examples to advance our own actions toward greater social justice—i.e., to do better—and also to draw inspiration from and build on the important gains of those who struggled before us.

Testifying before Congress in 1940, for instance, Frances Perkins (U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933-1945 and ILR Lecturer from 1957-1965) spoke powerfully about the need to cover excluded workers under the nation’s labor and social-security laws. She reminded Congress that “migrants do not live apart from our whole social and economic system. In the long run, the best assurance of a decent life for migrants is the continued improvement in the standard of living, and the opportunities for work, of all Americans.”

Although many of the abusive practices in farm labor have astonishingly not changed much since the ILR school was established, my research demonstrates why it is necessary to secure and enforce greater labor protections and civil rights for immigrant workers.