Revitalizing Worker Rights

Institute aims to help clarify way to inclusive, sustainable society
ILR Institute aims to help clarify way to inclusive, sustainable society
Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Worker Institute at Cornell launched Wednesday in New York.

"We need solutions, not scapegoats," Lowell Turner, institute director, told more than 300 people from community and non-governmental organizations, unions, academia, business, government and other sectors.

"For long-term solutions, we need innovative strategies for the active participation of organized workers. We need a revitalization of collective representation, in both old ways and new," he said.

"We believe that a socially inclusive, sustainable society depends upon strong worker rights and representation – to push up the low end, reduce inequality, revitalize democracy, empower our workers and their families," said Turner, an ILR School professor.

The economic crisis unleashed by the 2008 financial crash, Turner said, has the nation and world facing "perhaps a decade of conflict, negotiation and struggle between contending visions of the future."

The Worker Institute, conceived at the ILR School, brings the university's "research and education to bear on these debates."

Institute work begins, Turner said, with five initiatives:

  • Equity at Work
  • Precarious Workers
  • Sustainability and the Economy
  • Strategic Leadership
  • International Collective Action

The goal of the work is to develop innovative approaches to workplace and related social problems, said Turner, who leads the institute with Marc Bayard, its executive director. Bayard is based in Manhattan; Turner is based in Ithaca.

The work will be done through collaboration with unions, worker centers, non-governmental organizations, agencies, foundations and colleagues at other universities and networks promoting labor research and education, according to the Worker Institute.

"We live in hard times, but we also have choices," Turner said. "We can gripe and complain or we can seek to understand, and on that understanding we can teach, inspire and lead," he said.

"For the challenges ahead, we need all hands aboard, including yours and ours."

Turner's remarks were followed by a discussion moderated by MSNBC political analyst Chris Hayes, host of "Up With Chris Hayes" and an editor at "The Nation."

Panelists include Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO; Ai-Jen Poo, Domestic Workers United founder and one of "Time" magazines "100 Most Influential People in the World;" Heather McGhee, Demos director, and Turner.

Event speakers also included Harry Katz, ILR's Kenneth F. Kahn Dean and Jack Sheinkman Professor of Collective Bargaining; Héctor Figueroa, secretary-treasurer of 32BJ Service Employees International Union; Vinny Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and Bayard.