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The cover of Shannon Gleeson's book.

Gleeson Authors Book on Migrant Worker Rights

A new book coauthored by ILR School Professor Shannon Gleeson and Xóchitl Bada analyzes how labor unions, worker centers, legal aid groups and other immigrant advocates put tactical pressure on government bureaucracies to holistically defend migrant rights.

“In writing the book, we tried to think about how the shift in the Mexican government’s policy toward their emigrant workers has been carried out in practice,” said Gleeson, the Edmund Ezra Day Professor of Labor Relations, Law, and History. “Beyond bilateral agreements between the U.S. and Mexico, labor advocacy networks have been critical to implementing these rights on the ground.

“We were really interested in how these accountability strategies have been deployed, sometimes in coordination, and sometimes in conflict with the Mexican government and its consular offices.”

Taking Mexico and the United States as entry points, Scaling Migrant Worker Rights: How Advocates Collaborate and Contest State Power is a nuanced, multi-layered picture of the problems facing the implementation of migrant worker rights.

The culmination of 10 years research, the book provides the history behind migrant workers and their struggle for workers’ rights, as well as an overview of how the system works, and, more importantly, where it fails. Gleeson and Bada, conclude the potential for a functional immigrant worker rights regime relies on a portable, universal system of justice and human rights, a robust civil society on both sides of the border, and willing and proactive local labor agencies.

According to Gleeson, who is also a professor at the Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, “sending states,” countries from which immigrants are coming, have historically been either hands-off or actively detrimental toward the rights of their migrant workers, in part because labor advocacy can sometimes conflict with the goals of exporting migrant workers. “Migrant workers are a commodity and the cheaper you can make them, the better,” she said.

Over time, that posture has changed. In 2004, the Mexican government signed an initial memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Labor to have a hand in ensuring that labor regulations are carried out.

“We were interested in learning how this memorandum is actually working now that we’re two decades out,” Gleeson said. “It's a great PR story for the Mexican government to say that it's doing this. And for various reasons, the U.S. labor agencies benefit from it because they can’t sufficiently invest in the cultural and linguistic resources needed to access these populations. But, we were really interested in how this was playing out on the ground.

“It's also the story of how the advocates themselves leverage these formal memorandums, and more broadly, how they hold both government's feet to the fire.’”

The book is available to read online for free.

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