ILR School

The Worker Institute Publications

Permanent URI for this collection

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.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 10 of 175
  • Item
    Domestic Workers Rising: An Evaluation of the We Rise Peer Training Program
    West, Zoë; Carey, Ketchel; Brady, Anne Marie (Cornell University, ILR School, Worker Institute, 2024)
    This report is based on an in-depth evaluation of the impact of the We Rise Nanny Training, a peer education program in New York that integrates workers’ rights education with professional development, using popular education pedagogy. The We Rise Nanny Training aims to lift standards in the domestic work industry by training nannies in workers’ rights and negotiation skills; providing professional development that increases their employability; and building their confidence and leadership within the workplace and within the movement for domestic workers’ rights. The evaluation was designed as an 18-month, mixed-methods, longitudinal study that was shaped by the principles of community-based participatory research. The research included a longitudinal survey comprised of a baseline, midline, and endline survey; qualitative interviews with training participants; focus groups with peer trainers; and qualitative interviews with training coordinators and organization staff. Research was conducted in English, Spanish, and Nepali. Our analysis suggests that the We Rise Nanny Training strengthens participants’ ability and drive to negotiate with their employers for increased wages and better working conditions, and to secure measures such as written contracts and overtime pay. Participants drew confidence and motivation to negotiate from learning about their rights and fair standards, recognizing the value of their labor as domestic workers, and receiving a certificate from the Worker Institute at Cornell University. Our research also found that the peer and popular education design of the We Rise training appears to instill in participants the sense that they are part of a greater movement of domestic workers pushing for industry-wide change, thus bolstering their confidence and drive to make change in their own workplaces and across the industry. Findings suggest that organizations use the We Rise Nanny Training to support their broader strategies to lift standards across the industry: as a base-building channel; a vehicle for leadership development; and as a “leadership ladder” where nannies can become peer trainers and We Rise “captains.” Our analysis also suggests that the training influences participants to become more involved in activities that are central to lifting standards in the industry and expanding the movement for domestic workers’ rights—sharing information with other nannies, doing outreach and recruitment with other nannies, and engaging in organizing and advocacy activities.
  • Item
    Essential but Unprotected: App-based Food Couriers in New York City
    Figueroa, Maria; Guallpa, Ligia; Wolf, Andrew B.; Tsitouras, Glendy; Colón-Hernandez, Hildalyn (Cornell University, ILR School, Workers Institute, 2023)
    [Excerpt] This report contains the findings from a participatory action research project that examined the working and living conditions of delivery workers engaged by digital platforms (also known as apps) to deliver restaurant food orders to consumers in New York City. The research was conducted under a partnership between the worker center Workers’ Justice Project and The Worker Institute of Cornell University’s ILR School, and involved both primary and secondary research, including a survey of 500 app-based couriers doing deliveries in NYC, focus groups of workers, and individual interviews. The goal of this report is to raise awareness among stakeholders about the challenges that the tens of thousands of app-based delivery workers confront in NYC, to inform policy and advocacy efforts that would improve labor standards and workplace safety in this industry. Highlights of the study findings follow.
  • Item
    Building Responsible Projects in New York City: Assessing the Impact of Prevailing Wage Benefits on Workers, Contractors, and the New York City Economy
    Weaver, Russell; Brady, Anne Marie (Cornell University, ILR School, The Workers Institute, 2023)
    [Excerpt] Extant literature on prevailing wage (PW) laws notes that such laws generate societal benefits in the form of upward pressure on wages and benefits for non-union workers, as well as protection of local construction industries (workers, workers’ families, and employers alike) from the wage and benefit erosion that could happen if external competition entered the local market from lower-wage geographies and persistently undercut local firms. This research report illustrates how, beyond these and related benefits, PW laws might make union construction labor more cost effective than non-union construction labor for PW jobs. Such an outcome could have significant upsides. Among other things, supporting union firms: increases those firms’ ability to take on, train, and pay new apprentices, thereby paving the way for a future experienced, high-quality workforce; gives those firms more capacity to hire additional qualified workers at journey and provisional levels, thereby putting upward pressure on union density in the industry; and, arguably, puts pressure on non-union firms to raise wages and benefits to levels that are more competitive with their union counterparts. In other words, insofar as PW laws contribute to stronger unions and better compensated workers, they are “high road” policies that can lead to greater shared prosperity in local economies over time.
  • Item
    Unpaid Care Work and Its Impact on New Yorkers’ Paid Employment
    West, Zoë; Brady, Anne Marie (Cornell University, ILR School, The Workers Institute, 2023-06)
    The widening gulf between the vast need for care in our society and the limited accessibility of care has led us into a “crisis of care.” While the need for care is universal, care work has been relegated to the status of a private concern since the rise of capitalist industrialization. As the increasingly sharp divisions between the public realm of the market and the private realm of the home led to more fixed and gendered divisions between productive labor (“men’s work”) and reproductive labor (“women’s work”), the labor of caring—for children, for elders, for those with illness or disability—was devalued, whether unpaid or paid. This pattern has been reinforced by neoliberal restructuring of the economy and public services, even amid shifts in labor market participation and changes in gendered norms of care work in the family. To explore current patterns of unpaid caregiving and its impact on New Yorkers’ paid employment, this policy brief shares relevant findings from the 2022 Empire State Poll, carried out by the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR).
  • Item
    Equity in Focus: Job Creation for a Just Society
    Brady, Anne Marie; Lieberwitz, Risa; Cunningham, Zach (Cornell University, ILR School, The Workers Institute, 2023)
    [Excerpt] Prioritizing gender and racial equity to promote a strong and just economy is a high priority of the Biden-Harris Administration. Historic levels of financing have been made available to support a range of infrastructure projects across the United States through key pieces of legislation, chief among them the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law in November 2021. The immediate issue is ensuring that the $1.2 trillion in direct government spending made available through the law is distributed in an equitable manner; that the jobs created or bolstered through this major infusion of federal funding include groups of people who historically have been excluded from past opportunities, and importantly, that these jobs are quality jobs—jobs that pay well, have strong social and labor protections, and where possible, are union jobs. This report explores these themes and discusses how policymakers, practitioners, and advocates are addressing the inequities in three sectors: the child care economy, the clean energy economy, and the construction trades, as presented in the Equity in focus—Job Creation for a Just Society series. The series was a year-long engagement made possible through a partnership between the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau and The Worker Institute at the Cornell University ILR School. The webinar series and summit brought together local, state, and federal policymakers, practitioners, unions, workers, industry stakeholders, policy researchers, philanthropy, and advocates to explore how best to prioritize gender and racial equity as core components of a strong and just economy. This report captures the key social, economic, and political issues discussed during the Equity in focus webinar series and summit, which explored the challenges and solutions to achieving equity in job creation in these three sectors. The solutions highlighted in this report are rooted in local-level innovations designed to reverse inequalities in job creation and access that are supported through partnerships with the state and federal government.
  • Item
    Diminishing New York State's Public Mental Healthcare Sector: The Impact of Austerity and Privatization on Wages and Employment
    Weaver, Russell; Brady, Anne Marie; West, Zoë (Cornell University, ILR School, Worker Institute, 2023)
    [Excerpt] This report explores the effects that privatization and austerity have had on mental healthcare capacity in New York State and the employment and wages of public sector mental health workers. Our research finds that both the public sector mental healthcare workforce and the state’s mental healthcare capacity have decreased significantly between 1990 and 2021. The findings strongly suggest that ongoing contraction of the state’s public sector mental health workforce—and the concomitant privatization of mental health work—likely has had (and will potentially continue to create) disparate and negative impacts on mental health workers, their families, and their communities. These negative impacts disproportionately affect women, people of color, and working-class New Yorkers. The analysis strongly suggests that public sector mental health facilities in New York State create good, well-paying union jobs, at all skill levels, and for residents of all racial-ethnic backgrounds; all while more dedicated mental health capacity (e.g., specialized mental health providers and facilities) might mean fewer suicides, fewer instances of hospitalization due to self-harm, and an overall stronger state of mental health across New York.
  • Item
    Power and Voice at Work: New Yorkers View Employer Retaliation as a Barrier to Addressing Workplace Problems and Express Desire for Union Representation
    Tung, Irene; Pinto, Sanjay (2021-08)
    In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, this policy brief highlights key findings from the national Just Recovery Survey that provides insight into how New Yorkers compare to the rest of the country with regard to perceptions of employer retaliation for raising concerns about workplace safety and sexual harassment. It also shows how working New Yorkers compare to workers across the United States in terms of their interests in forming a union as a mechanism for collective action. Analysis of the survey data suggests that workers in New York were more likely than those in the rest of the country to report that they both perceive employer retaliation to be a significant barrier preventing them from freely expressing concerns related to workplace health and safety and were more likely to experience pressure to refrain from reporting workplace sexual harassment to avoid employer retaliation. Workers in New York expressed a higher level of interest in joining a labor union than those in the rest of the country. Building on these results, this brief concludes by drawing some implications for efforts to expand worker voice as part of a just and worker-centered recovery.
  • Item
    Foundations for a Just and Inclusive Recovery: Economic Security, Health and Safety, and Agency and Voice in the COVID-19 Era
    Mabud, Rakeen; Paye, Amity; Pinto, Maya; Pinto, Sanjay (2021-02)
    This report presents the findings from a nationally representative survey that documents the experiences of U.S. workers—particularly underpaid and frontline workers, Black and Latinx workers, and women workers—amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and related recession, and gauges the interaction of these crises with structural racism and sexism. Administered in September and October of 2020, evidence from the Just Recovery Survey suggests that economic security, health and safety, and agency and voice interact with and reinforce one another, but, for many workers, they are undermined by racism, sexism, and other structural inequities. Showing the significant, often compounding impacts of race, gender, and socioeconomic status on people’s basic well-being and economic trajectories, the results from the Just Recovery Survey add to a growing body of evidence pointing to the need for immediate interventions to curtail the effects of the pandemic, but importantly, the need for deeper structural reforms in the long-term.
  • Item
    Unvarnished: Precarity and Poor Working Conditions for Nail Salon Workers in New York State
    West, Zoë; Weaver, Russell; Wagner, KC (Cornell University, ILR School, The Worker Institute., 2022)
    This report maps out the contours of New York State’s nail salon industry and workforce and examines labor conditions in the industry and their impact on workers’ lives, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent legislation regulating the industry. The research conducted for this report included analysis of government data on the industry; focus groups with nail salon workers conducted in four languages; and a statewide survey of nail salons. The research design was shaped by the principles of participatory research. Our analysis indicates that New York has the highest concentration of nail technicians in the nation, with the most common primary languages of these workers being Chinese (39%), Spanish (19%), and Vietnamese (14%). The vast majority (82%) of nail salons in New York are microbusinesses with five or fewer nail technicians, and the average service prices are markedly lower than the nationwide average. New legislation and regulations have been an important step toward lifting standards in the industry, but our research suggests that nail salon workers in New York earn low wages and have inadequate workplace benefits. With a workforce predominantly made up of immigrant women of color who often endure economic insecurity and have limited alternative job opportunities, our research found that this precarity heightened fears of retaliation, seriously undermining workers’ willingness to speak out about violations. Our research reveals substantial employer noncompliance with new laws and regulations and also points to unequal pay, treatment, and working conditions for workers of different ethnic backgrounds. Access to training and awareness of workers’ rights appeared to make workers feel more empowered to speak out. The report recommendations include: use a sectoral approach to raise standards comprehensively across the industry; center worker voice and organizing in strategies to lift and enforce industry standards, and support worker organizations’ critical role in bolstering worker voice and agency; strengthen enforcement capacity; ensure diverse representation of the workforce in any such initiatives; and make training more accessible and relevant for nail salon workers.
  • Item
    Labor Action Tracker: Annual Report 2021
    Kallas, Johnnie; Grageda, Leonardo; Friedman, Eli (2022)
    [Excerpt] 2021 was a dramatic year for the US labor movement, with an upsurge in strike activity that gained extensive media attention. In light of ongoing speculation about the scope of these actions, we are particularly pleased to release the first ILR Labor Action Tracker Annual Report, which presents key findings from our data on work stoppages in 2021. We have created a comprehensive database of strikes across the United States because official data sources only record a small fraction of this activity. Since funding cuts by the Reagan administration in the early-1980s, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) only documents very large work stoppages - those involving 1,000 or more workers that last at least an entire shift. As this report demonstrates, only recording very large work stoppages excludes the vast majority of strike activity and leaves practitioners, policymakers, and scholars misinformed about the true level of workplace conflict. Strikes remain an important source of labor activism (and may be increasing in salience), as workers collectively stop work to address a range of demands, including, but not limited to, pay, health and safety, and racial justice. In this report, we follow the lead of the BLS and document work stoppages, which include both strikes and lockouts. You can follow our project and view our monthly reports of strike activity on Twitter @ILRLaborAction.