ULI Spring 2019 Publication Issue 1: The Year of The Strike

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Our Team


Letter From The Executive Board


Barriers To Strikes


Strikes and Intersectionality


Comparative Labor


Labor Organizing in the Sex Industry


About Us




Polina Solovyeva

Zila Ake

Co-Founder Executive Director

Co-Founder Executive Policy Director

David Leynov

Yana Kalmyka

Research Director

Outreach Director

Camila Bacolod

Richard Green

Alexandra Bixler

Rachel Hidek

Sherelll Farmer

Viraj Kumar

Amelia Flaumenhaft

Sharon Perlmutter

Elijah Fox

Kataryna Restrepo

Vrinda Goel

Eitan Wolf

L etter from the E xe c utive B oard Dear Reader, The founding executive board of the Undergraduate Labor Institute at Cornell University is proud to present the inaugural issue of our research report. This Spring, fourteen undergraduate policy analysts from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations examined and researched strikes in the labor movement. Each of the four research pieces comprising this report analyze the theme through the perspectives of non-traditional labor, intersectionality, comparative labor, and barriers to strikes. In commemoration of the labor movement that was molded by the voices and efforts of worker resistance, we chose to focus this report on The Year of the Strike. Strikes have long served as a tool of expression and movement-building for workers. The first documented labor strike on U.S. soil, the Polish workers’ and artisans’ strike of 1619, predates the inception of the country itself by over 150 years. Through centuries of labor commodification, workers have been organizing and using their collective power to demand justice in their workplaces. After a sharp and consistent decline in U.S. labor strikes since the 1970’s, 2018 saw a huge spike in work stoppage nationwide. From West Virginia to Los Angeles, a powerful wave of strikes and radical labor action has called into question the dominant narrative about union decline and the end of organized labor. In our inaugural issue, the Undergraduate Labor Institute hopes to use the history of strikes as a lens for analyzing the current circumstances around labor activism in the form of work stoppages. The AFL-CIO writes that “we must look to the past not only for inspiration, but for the tools we need to continue the fight. The roots of the problems we face today can be found in our past. So can the beginnings of the solutions we need for our future.” Following this, we want to honor the history of labor organizing in our Spring 2019 publication as we seek to explain the trends that led to the recent strike resurgence, and to propose possible policies and strategies that might help workers to gather leverage and build power. 2018 was the year of the strike, and 2019 will be the year of the ULI. Sincerely, Polina Solovyeva, Co-Founder and Executive Director Zila Ake, Co-Founder and Executive Policy Director David Leynov, Research Director Yana Kalmyka, Outreach Director

Barriers to Strikes By: Elijah Fox, Rachel Hidek, and Eitan Wolf

Walmart was founded at the end of the 1960s as a discount store in Arkansas. Its savvy business practices made it a major player in American retail, and during the Reagan Era of deregulation, the company expanded into a national chain with tens of billions of dollars in market capitalization and millions of employees. The firm has also taken a fierce anti-union stance and built a workforce largely from part-time employees, who are not entitled to the benefits of full-time employees, such as employer health care packages.1,​ 2,​ 3 Walmart’s dominance in the consumer and labor markets of many communities in the United States presents several barriers to worker organization. In the consumer market, their business model of selling at the lowest prices available (even when these prices are below cost) affects local businesses. In some areas, the effects of a new Walmart are felt by other big-box retailers like Target and Costco in addition to the “mom-and-pop” stores we typically picture as Walmart’s antitheses.4 Of local small businesses, those that offer parallel products to those offered by Walmart (such as groceries or general merchandise) suffer the most.5 Furthermore, numerous studies have shown that Walmart’s presence depresses local retail earnings and employment.6 Workers in metropolitan areas are more sensitive to wage cuts than those not in metropolitan areas.7 Given that Walmart is more prevalent in rural areas, one can argue that workers’ higher tolerance for Walmart’s low wages in non-metropolitan areas is in part caused

Greenhouse, Steven. "How America's Largest Employer Persuades Its Workers Not to Unionize." The Atlantic. June 09, 2015. Accessed April 25, 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/06/how-walmart-convinces-its-employees-no t-to-unionize/395051/. 2 Bose, Nandita. "Half of Walmart's Workforce Are Part-time Workers: Labor Group." Reuters. May 25, 2018. Accessed April 25, 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-walmart-workers/half-of-walmarts-workforce-are-part-timeworkers-labor-group-idUSKCN1IQ295. 3 https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/111/hr3590/text. 4 Bonanno, Alessandro and Stephan J. Goetz. “WalMart and Local Economic Development: A Survey,” ​Economic Development Quarterly ​26, no. 4 (2012): 285-297 (289). 5 Lichtenstein, Nelson. “How Wal-Mart Fights Unions.” ​Minnesota Law Review,​ Volume 92., May 24, 2008. 1499-1501 (1462; 1483). 6 ​Bonnano and Goetz, “Local Economic Development, 290-91. 7 Bonnano, Alessandro and Rigoberto A. Lopez. “Wal-Mart's Monopsony Power in Metro and Non-Metro Labor Markets,” ​Regional Science and Urban Economics ​42 (2012): 569-579 (570). 1


by a lack of employment alternatives.8 This presents a barrier to worker organization, especially given the corporation’s staunch anti-labor culture, because even if workers are interested in organizing among themselves, they are aware that there are few, if any, employment alternatives if they are discharged. On a more basic level, where there is arguably the greatest impact on wages, there is also the smallest opportunity for recourse.9 Some labor economists have considered if Walmart’s power in non-metro areas is a “monopsony,” or a situation in which there is only one buyer. Walmart may be seen as a monopsony because it is often the only buyer of retail labor in an area.10 They are therefore able to profit while still paying low wages, keeping staffing levels low, and sustaining high turnover. 11

Despite these economic hardships, a 2014 ethnographic​ ​study by Adam Reich and Peter Bearman found that workers are often less frustrated by low pay as they are by “disrespect by customers and the arbitrary use of authority by supervisors.”12 This means that negative feelings about working conditions stay focused at the shop level, and are rarely leveled upward toward the broader corporate structure through unionization. Walmart’s internal policies also serve to reinforce and introduce new barriers to worker organization. While at first, strategies like an open management-employee relationship may have brought some benefit of flexibility for workers, as Walmart grew, conditions changed and the company adopted a vehement anti-organization stance an in attempt to maintain their work culture. This is reflected in the 56-page guide circulated to managers of Walmart stores, “The Manager’s Toolbox to Remaining Union Free,” written by the corporation’s labor relations team to “provide [managers] with valuable information on how to remain union free in the event union organizers choose your facility as their next target.”13,​ 14 The document details specific internal strategies to avoid worker organization, including maintaining a direct union activity reporting hotline, refusing to discuss union representation, refusing to look at signed union authorization cards, and screening resumes to identify “salts.” These efforts and policies prevent workers from engaging in the very constructive labor negotiations Walmart claims they try to uphold in their rulebooks. It shows a willingness to dedicate company-wide spending and manpower to suppress worker organization instead of using those same resources to address workers’ problems directly. Another document circulated to Walmart stores in 1991 - deemed “highly sensitive” and “for management's use only” - stated Walmart’s Philosophy outright: “Wal-Mart is opposed to Gereffi, Gary and Michelle Christian.“The Impacts of Wal-Mart: The Rise and Consequences of the World's Dominant Retailer,” ​Annual Review of Sociology ​35 (2009): 573-591 (578). 9 Bonnano and Lopez, “Walmart’s Monopsony Power”, 570. 10 ​Ibid, 574. 11 ​Reich, Adam. “Walmart’s Consumer Redlining,” ​Understanding People in Their Social Worlds ​15, Iss. 4, (Nov 2016): 74-77. 12 ​Harrison, Jill Ann. “Working for Respect: Community and Conflict at Walmart,” ​Social Forces​, (April 3 2019): 2, ​https://doi-org.proxy.library.cornell.edu/10.1093/sf/soz019​. 13 “A Manager’s Toolbox to Remaining Union-Free.” Confidential Report. Wal-Mart, 1997. http://www.ufcw.ca/Theme/UFCW/files/ManagersToolbox.pdf. 14 “A Manager’s Toolbox.” Walmart, 1997. 8


unionization of its associates. Any suggestion that the Company is neutral on the subject or that it encourages associates to join labor organizations is not true.”15 This position was accompanied by 12 stated goals, which were aimed at reducing the risk of unionization by providing benefits to workers, and if followed up upon, could have potentially mitigated many workers’ complaints. However, Walmart’s actions as a company have on many occasions run contrary to the ideals from their list when it comes to the threat of unionization. For example, number four on the list, “[o]ffer a sense of job security,” did not seem to be taken into account when Walmart closed stores in Canada after they successfully unionized, or when Walmart shuttered all butcher operations in 180 stores after butchers in a Jacksonville, Texas location voted 7-3 to unionize their department.16,​ 17 Walmart’s pattern of action suggests the corporation will forcefully twist their own internal policies when it comes to increasing barriers to worker organization efforts. Recently, Walmart has been implementing other strategies to fight employee cohesion outside of their standard management techniques. For example, a recent report showed that part-time workers now account for half of Walmart’s workforce, a drastic increase from the 20% reported in 2005.18 Part-time workers reportedly face higher barriers to success due to their receiving lower pay as well as fewer benefits for the same work, and indeed, this employment demographic shift has been harmful to the majority of workers’ well-being. This is shown by the same report, which found in a poll of part-time workers that 80% of minority workers would prefer to work full time (described as “involuntary part-time”), 60% of workers’ hours have declined, and 55% of workers said they could not afford enough food to their basic needs. As full-time employment at Walmart continues to drop as expected, these issues will only be exacerbated. This simultaneously increases the difficulty of organizing the workplace because workers have less of a safety net during organization drives, and may feel disconnected from their full-time co-workers. In recent decades, Walmart has also used its financial capital and political weight as the nation’s largest employer to lobby for legislation to lower its taxes and weaken protections for workers. The success of these efforts has the dual effects of padding Walmart’s pockets and weakening organized labor across the United States. After a slow but steady rise in lobbying expenditures throughout the friendly presidency of George W. Bush, spending nearly doubled after the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006, Relations and You at the Wal-Mart Distribution Center.” Confidential Report. Wal-Mart, September 1991. http://reclaimdemocracy.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/distribctr6022manual.pdf. 16 ​Reuters. “Walmart Illegally Closed Union Store, Court Says.” ​The New York Times,​ June 27, 2014, sec. business.https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/28/business/international/walmart-illegally-closed-u nion-store-court-says.html. 17 ​CBS.MarketWatch.com. “Wal-Mart to Shut down Meat-Cutting Operations.” MarketWatch. Accessed April 22, 2019. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/wal-mart-to-shut-down-meat-cutting-operations. 18 ​Bose, Nandita. “Half of Walmart’s Workforce Are Part-Time Workers: Labor Group.” Reuters​, May 25, 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-walmart-workers-idUSKCN1IQ295. 15



then doubled again after Barack Obama was elected president and took control of the National Labor Relations Board.19 That annual total has not declined below $6 million since 2007.20 After labor unions played a decisive role in delivering Democratic victories in 2008, particularly in crucial midwestern states, Walmart hired a new army of lobbyists, comprised of staffers to high-level campaigns and administrations of politicians in both parties, to confront pro-labor legislation produced by a party indebted to organized labor.21,​ 22 These lobbying efforts have included a ferocious fight against the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have eased employee unionization efforts, in which Walmart devoted more resources than any of the bill’s other opponents, and support for the Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act, which created barriers to unionization.23,​ 24,​ 25 Proposals to ameliorate inequality of bargaining power between employers and workers include introducing new legislation to ensure greater worker control over hours and to ensure a certain percentage of full-time employee positions stay available. Further legislation could extend the benefits of full-time workers to part-time workers at companies of a certain size, which would reduce incentives for Walmart and similar companies to convert their workforce into one comprised of primarily part-time workers, to whom they are less beholden. For organizing efforts, using Walmart’s own 12 goals from their management handbook to shape which areas to focus on may be helpful. For example, numbers one and two (“[p]ay wages which are as good or better than the prevailing rate for similar jobs in the community,” and “[p]rovide a benefit program which is second to none in the retail industry”, respectively) translate very easily into negotiation talking points.26 It may also be prudent to argue in favor of greater employee input and to adjust the corporation's internal policies towards organizing efforts. Also, based on organizing attempts in New England, California, New York, and Chicago, engaging in “site fights” -- utilizing “zoning regulations, environmental studies, and traffic controls to prevent or ​Lobbying Spending Database - Wal-Mart Stores, 2001 | OpenSecrets.​ https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=D000000367&year=2001. 20 ​Ibid. 21 ​Minchin, Timothy J. “A Pivotal Role? The AFL-CIO and the 2008 Presidential Election.” Labor History, July 2016, v. 57, iss. 3. La Trobe University. https://bit.ly/2DrCC93. 22 ​Norman, Al. “Wal-Mart’s ‘Invisible Army’ of Lobbyists.” ​HuffPost,​ 22 July 2013, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/walmart-lobbyists_b_3632526. 23 ​Lobbying Spending Database-Wal-Mart Stores, 2009, ​OpenSecrets.​ https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientbills.php?id=D000000367&year=2009. Accessed 22 Apr. 2019. 24 ​Schnake, Mel E. and Donna J. Cunningham. “The Proposed Employee Free Choice Act: Implications in the Workplace.” Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues 12, no. 1 (2009): 101-112. https://search.proquest.com/docview/216235893?accountid=10267. 25 ​Lobbying Spending Database H.R.1409, 2014, OpenSecrets.​ https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/billsum.php?id=hr1409-111. Accessed 22 Apr. 2019. 26 ​“Labor Relations and You at the Wal-Mart Distribution Center.” Confidential Report. Wal-Mart, September 1991. http://reclaimdemocracy.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/distribctr6022manual.pdf. 19


delay the construction of one of Wal- Mart’s huge, 180,000 square foot Supercenters” -- have proven somewhat successful as well.27 In California, this type of pressure on Walmart ended up benefitting the older, established supermarkets, which in turn allowed the UCFW to avoid a strike and negotiate a contract with greater concessions. This shows how direct action, even outside of the scope of our country’s legislative framework, can create a serious impact and overcome certain barriers to worker organization efforts.

​Lichtenstein, Nelson. “How Wal-Mart Fights Unions.” ​Minnesota Law Review,​ Volume 92., May 24, 2008. 1499-1501. 27


Strikes and Intersectionality By: Amelia Flaumenhaft, Richard Green, and Vrinda Goel

Historical In general, strikes serve the purpose of advancing the interests of workers and upholding their rights before otherwise non-compliant employers. However, throughout history, the benefits borne by strikes have not necessarily been even across all intersectional identities. Many groups have been overlooked by the traditional labor movement, either in the lack of attention to their specific needs and/or the exclusion from organized labor action altogether. Especially throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, restrictions regarding union membership have been drawn along racial lines, preventing large portions of the workforce from partaking in/benefiting from union activities. More recently, as women have come to make up a more significant portion of the workforce in certain industries, they have found that despite having access to participation in union activity, their interests are not necessarily upheld to the extent of their male counterparts’. The increased participation of African Americans in the industrial workforce in the second half of the 19th century was widely met with disapproval and disdain from white coworkers. As such, craft unions, such as the International Association of Machinists, often excluded black workers from membership on the grounds that black workers were fundamentally different from white workers, with lower standards of workplace advancement that actually positioned them as “competitors” to the white worker. The fear that black union membership would threaten the “progress” of white workers’ attempts to obtain higher pay and better working conditions, was supplemented by the claim that the quantifiably minority status of black workers relative to white workers in unionized industries rendered them a group unnecessary of union representation.28 Consequently, during a time period when the labor movement was bringing newfound strength and power to industrial workers, African Americans (and other racial minority groups) found themselves largely excluded from the benefits of organized labor action, such as strikes. Another group that has been largely overlooked throughout the traditional labor movement is women. Throughout much of history, unionized workforces have been predominantly male, with women’s involvement in the labor movement being largely limited to efforts to help improve their husbands’ working conditions. As a result of demographic shifts in the late 19th century, however, lower/working class women became important as economic/laboring entities.29 In industries that incorporated women, such as coal mining, unions have often failed to adequately incorporate the interests/voices of women into their activity. The gendered dynamics of the United Mine Workers of America strike against Pittston Coal Group of 28 29

Melvin Dubofsky and Joseph A. McCartin, ​American Labor: A Documentary Collection​, 232. M.E.J. Kelley, “Women and the Labor Movement,” 408-411.


1989-1990, for example, in which women participated in the collective action but were not given a say in the organization of the strike nor the outcome(i.e. collective bargaining/contract negotiation), are reflective of the imbalance between women’s contribution to the labor movement and the lack of power they, as a group, have been granted to advocate for their specific needs.30

Modern ​ espite the traditional labor movement’s historical exclusion of workers with D intersectional identities, the idea of intersectional organizing, especially among teachers has recently gained traction due to the 2012 Chicago Teachers’ Strike. Combatting a campaign that called for increased privatization of public schools and blamed the woes of Chicago public schools on the teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), Chicago teachers rallied “for better schools.”31 In their attempt to unite against corporate and governmental forces that blamed the disproportionately low test scores of minority students on “lousy, ineffective, lazy teachers,” CTU gathered support from parents in the community (who were also blamed for the poor performance of Chicago schools). This strike was unique in that for the sake of ​children​ of many backgrounds, a large cohort of ​teachers​ and ​parents​ of many different backgrounds banded together to dispel the efforts of forces with seemingly insurmountable financial capital and social power. It is no coincidence that the willingness of CTU to accept this challenge has garnered national attention. Despite the amplified oppression resulting from the various identities Chicago teachers are comprised of, including low-income minorities and women, their unity around these identities allowed them to stand up to a longstanding system of social stratification. As such, the Chicago Teachers’ Strike has been upheld as a standard for other teacher organizations looking to organize around intersectional identities. One such organization is known as The Caucus of Working Educators, or WE. Located in Philadelphia with membership around 300, WE’s success in intersectional organizing lies in their subversion of the typical bureaucratic structure of unions in favor of a democratic structure, which allows for learning among all union members as “knowledge is created together.”32 But, beyond this, WE draws from the success of the Chicago Teachers’ strike in that they attempt to form coalitions with parents as well, so that they may share in this learning.33 After all, parents and students may also share similar identities, and the learning can be about anything from

Karen Beckwith, “Gender, Class, and the Structure of Intersectionality: working-class women and the Pittston Coal Strike,” 21-23. 31 ​Rhoda Rae Gutierrez, “Beating the Neoliberal Blame Game: Teacher and Parent Solidarity and the 2012 Chicago Teachers' Strike.” ​Monthly Review, ​no. 65 (2013). 32 ​Amy E. Brown and Mark Stern, “Teachers' Work as Women's Work: Reflections on Gender, Activism, and Solidarity in New Teacher Movements.” ​Feminist Formations, ​no. 30 (2016). 33 ​Brown and Stern, “Teachers’ Work,” 190. 30


“social movement unionism” to critical race studies.34 WE and other intersectional organizing efforts are proof that organizing efforts centered around gathering those who have been historically shunned by unions exist and are able to use unique approaches to empower those who are most in need. Modern-day policy on public-sector unionism, however, does not give much hope to teachers of various identities hoping to organize. The Supreme Court ruled in ​Janus v.​ ​AFSCME that public-sector unions, which include most, if not all teachers’ unions, such as the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), are no longer authorized to collect union fees from non-union member employees.35 Public-sector unions were previously able to collect union fees from non-union member employees in order to avoid the free-rider problem, in which non-union members are still able to enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining despite not contributing anything in order to receive said benefits. Without this power, a decline in public-sector unionization, and therefore, teacher unionization, is inevitable, as a loss in revenue for unions means a loss in bargaining power. In this respect, the prospect of intersectional organizing and organizing in general among teachers in general looks bleak. While organizing in the public sector has been threatened by the aforementioned decision as well as the corporate desire to privatize schooling, glimmers of hope appear in the form of novel intersectional organizing efforts. Juxtaposing these modern-day efforts with traditional union attitudes reveals an interesting phenomenon. Intersectional organizers have completely altered the makeup of unions, which have traditionally been dominated by white men. Their recent growth demonstrates the power that can be harnessed from diverse individuals coalescing to tackle deep-rooted problems through sharing ideas.

Policy While intersectionality holds several identities, perhaps it’s best to focus on the simple yet underserved nexus between race and organized teachers in the United States; minority workers make up a vast portion of the population, and yet the workforce is underrepresented at every point. Therefore, current policies can have a significant impact on these marginalized individuals. An apt place to start the critique may be the vast policy implementations in New Orleans following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The school district in the city was reorganized in such a manner that heavily weighed against minority teachers and students, who are arguably the most failed in U.S. educational system. Overall it was seen that an expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, eliminating tenure, mandating statewide teacher evaluation, and shifting to charter schools while closing local ones due to low test scores all seemed to simultaneously result in fewer teachers of color, and a higher volume of teachers with less

​ hiannon Maton, “WE Learn Together: Philadelphia Educators Putting Social Justice R Unionism Principles into Practice.” ​Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, ​no. 26 (2016). 35 ​Janus v. AFSCME, 585 U.S. ___ (2018). 34


experience and fewer certifications. 36 Clearly then the blows to union relative power overall detracted from that of minority-identifying teachers. The shift to charter schools and reorganizing the districts by making them larger pushed teacher representation in the opposite direction. It has also been shown by similar studies that this was the issue with Chicago Schools as well. Thus a recommendation would be to have smaller school districts. It has been shown by studies that smaller public school districts yield higher teacher union satisfaction and thus hopefully higher satisfaction heard voices from teachers of color as well. The reason is simple, being that in smaller settings, unions have a larger voice against the bureaucracy of public school administration. 37 The next tier to consider then is what becomes agreed upon when districts are formed and teachers are placed in their settings. A somewhat controversial solution to offer is for districts and unions to adopt a convergence theory mindset when developing the goals for the education units under their jurisdiction. Namely, convergence theory in this setting refers to initiating reform with a common goal versus generating them separately prior to convening. 38 Thus in relation to strikes, one would discourage structures of traditional industrial bargaining and instead encourage all parties to collaboratively find common ground. This would ensure more voices are heard. Strikes and bargaining themselves are high-risk gambles that may prove to be short term in the goals they achieve. Often when funds are needed to sustain relative power, these come out of teacher salaries. Moreover, in such a structure there is less of a mindset that there are losses that must be made for gains, leaving less room for marginalization. Note, this solution calls for the abandonment of traditional union bargaining structure. Yet considering the declining role of unions in modern society, it might be worth restructuring education conversations to ensure all voices are heard. Will it work? It shows more promise than the solutions currently implemented in underfunded urban areas, yet as of last February, the UFT of the NYC area refused to sign on to Black Lives Matter. 39 Some issues will not go away as leverage points, or deal breakers; perhaps the real issue is whether strike solidarity is enough just within the communities of color?

​Terrenda C. White, “Teach For America’s Paradoxical Diversity Initiative: Race, Policy, and Black Teacher Displacement in Urban Schools,” ​Education Policy Analysis Archives​ 24 (2016). 37 William G. Howell, ​Besieged: School Boards and the Future of Education Politics (Washington D.C: Brookings Institution Press, 2005). 38 Charlie Naylor, “Teacher Unions, School Districts, Universities, Governments: Time to Tango and Promote Convergence?” ​International Electronic Journal for Leadership in Learning​ 11, no. 20 (2007), ERIC. 39 Natasha Capers et al., “Why Won't the United Federation of Teachers Sign onto Black Lives Matter?” New York Daily News, April 07, 2018, accessed April 23, 2019, https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/won-nyc-teachers-union-back-black-lives-matter-article1.3801077​. 36


Comparative Labor By: Camilla Bacolod, Viraj Kumar, and Sharon Perlmutter

Historical Though an international push for labor rights dialogue has the potential to bring about the end of labor abuses across the world, such a large collective action is hard to fathom. With the dominant political parties of major countries changing erratically, governments uniting globally for labor rights and reform seems unlikely. This does not mean that national labor organizing is not realistic. As seen in recent labor movements in India, building coalitions from large groups can send a strong message. In India, the 2016 General Labor Strike saw over 150 million workers protest for a raised minimum wage and universal social security.40 The 2019 National Strike followed in a similar vein, as unorganized workers demanded minimum wage increases and social security while protesting economic reforms proposed by the Modi Administration. With union membership steadily increasing in India from 1940 onwards, large strikes brought global attention.41 In the 2016 and 2019 strikes, workers from all lines of work, bankers to bus drivers, left India standing still. Foreign corporations struggled to find footing with India’s protectionist economic policy. The decrease in foreign corporations allowed Indian workers to organize more effectively, since those in positions of power are known members of the community. With management trends pointing toward global interconnectedness, they are more aware of future collective action. The 2016 strike resulted in immediate policy changes, as the Indian government increased the minimum wage by 42% in anticipation of the strike the strike.42 As exemplified by recent labor actions in India, strikes remain the most potent means through which laborers can amicably assert their power over management.

Modern Strikes in developing countries aim to improve workers’ conditions in the workplace. In the modern workplace, international trade relations and foreign direct investment has propelled workers in developing countries to strike. Trade specialization often leads to countries focusing their entire economic capacities on one sector, creating less diversified economies. Policies like these could diminish these risks and Safi, Michael. “Tens of Millions of Indian Workers Strike in Fight for Higher Wages.” The Guardian. September 02, 2016. Accessed April 25, 2019. 41 ​Padmanabhan, R. "Growth of Trade Unions in India: 1940-1970." ​Indian Journal of Industrial Relations​ 16, no. 1 (1980): 125-32. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27768599. 42 Madan, Karuna. “Strike Call Evokes Mixed Response in India.” Gulf News. October 29, 2018. Accessed April 25, 2019. 40


balance the creation of more inequalities within the country. Trade adjustment assistance programs, such as those which compensate workers who lost their jobs from import competition, could prevent labor strikes. In the US, the Trade Adjustment Assistance for workers provides job search and training from companies who closed due to import competition or offshore production. However, not all countries are able to support these types of services as trade intensifies. The modern workplace is not modern in all countries, and trade agreements do not have all the protections necessary to help workers in developing economies. Labor provisions within agreements should protect workers, but often times such provisions simply do not exist. According to the International Labor Organization, 57% of agreements between 2011-2015 have 43 labor provisions. Workers are actively being left behind and prevented from protecting their labor. It is uncertain whether strikes fill the void of a contract, but they are an efficient way to stand to foreign powers who want to profit from labor. While foreign direct investment expands the incomes of people in developing countries, it increases strike activities because it changes workplace dynamics and allows workers in developing countries to compare their job to the same one in a developed country. A worker can see from posted records that there are people doing the same job for more money in developed countries. This allows for better articulation in their grievances. Robertson and Teitelbaum (2011) used the 2010 Honda factory strike in Foshan, China as an example of how workers strike 44 against foreign owned factories in a developing country. Since companies find better ways to profit by building their factories abroad, away from the consumers, they build their factories in cities or special economic zones. These multinational corporations have reputations to maintain, so they do not use suppressive tactics up front. However, workers, as part of the international supply chain feel, often feel unequal vis-à-vis such corporations. Increases in foreign investment by companies in developing countries increases the prominence of labor strikes in the workplace. The dynamics of the workplace change when there are multiple parties attempting to profit from labor. Trade and foreign investment direct investment are not worker created factors. These are policies actively generated by leaders inconsiderate to their citizens. It may have provided more opportunities by increasing globalization, but the question remains whether it really leaves people better off than they were.

Policy The labor movement in developing countries is undergoing progress as more stakeholders start to foster sound labor management practices in these countries. There are previously established methods for managing labor issues in the private sector. Montgomery and Maggio depicted a methodology to assist investors in managing labor issues in large-scale ILO (2016). Graeme Robertson and Emmanuel Teitelbaum, ​Foreign Direct Investment, Regime Type, and Labor Protest in Developing Countries.​ American Journal of Political Science, Vol 55, No. 3, July 2011. 665-677. 43 44


private sector projects in developing countries.45 This normative labor framework includes methods to identify labor rights, craft user friendly questions that relate to specific legal requirements and identify potential best practices to complement the minimum established labor rights requirements. Best practices involve establishing an action plan to implement the labor rights requirements. This improves corporations’ methods to acquire more information about the labor rights violations occurring within their private sector projects. Accurate information is essential to effectively create best practices to comply with the labor rights requirements. Stakeholders can appropriately acquire information through proper due diligence by collecting information, visiting the sites, and reporting the observations in the different workplaces. The information collected from this due diligence process will be also useful for labor activists and organizers in holding companies and investors accountable for the labor injustices that are occurring in their projects. Particularly in multinational corporations in global supply chains, the necessary information collected shapes the behavior of key actors such as global brands, transnational activist networks, suppliers, and purchasing agents.46 The key actors of the labor movement heavily contribute to the progression of the labor movements in developing countries. Transnational activist networks (TAN) are essential in developing the labor movement in different countries. These networks are active collaborations amongst organized groups of workers based in two or more countries that have used targeted campaigns to pressure multi- and transnational corporations into improving working conditions and union rights.47 Successful movements among these transnational activist networks enhance workers’ capacities to collectively organize for better concessions in the workplace. Along with the established compliance methods for solving labor issues, activist networks are still important since many national governments in developing countries are not being held accountable to enforce labor market regulations. The central problems in current approaches to labor standards require a new conceptualization of the role of national governments. National governments should encourage activist programs to start dialogue between employers, unions, and community groups over labor standards.48 This dialogue creates shared information between the different stakeholders involved to come into a consensus in solving labor issues. Valuable legislation protecting labor rights is a result of collective effort from activists, union organizers, and suppliers to entice national governments in enforcing labor law legislation. Therefore, collective Robert H., and Gregory F. Maggio. “Fostering Labor Rights in Developing Countries: An Investors’ Approach to Managing Labor Issues.” ​Globalization and the Good Corporation​, 2008, 199-219. 46 ​Locke, Richard M., Matthew Amengual, and Akshay Mangla. “Virtue Out of Necessity?: Compliance, Commitment and the Improvement of Labor Conditions in Global Supply Chains.” SSRN Electronic Journal​, 2008. 47 ​Brookes, Marissa. “Labour as a Transnational Actor: Alliances, Activism and the Protection of Labour Rights in the Philippines and Pakistan.” ​Development and Change​ 48, no. 5 (2017): 922-41. 48 ​Kuruvilla, Sarosh, and Anil Verma. ​Globalization, Logics of Action, International Labor Standards and National Government Roles​. Report. School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University. Korea Labor Institute. 45




action from a coherent working-class that results from labor organizing is fundamental in voicing the concerns of workers.



Labor Organizing in the Sex Industry By: Alexandra Bixler, Sherell Farmer, and Kataryna Restrepo

Historical Sex work has proved an enduring profession, with documentation of sex workers providing services on American soil dating back to the 1700s,49 but these workers have unfortunately been subjected to much abuse with little formal protection. Prior to recent decades, sex workers, often bravely led by members of the transgender community, have built their foundations in organizing by fighting for LGBTQ+ rights. On June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City that also served as a home to other vulnerable groups like sex workers, runaways, and racial minorities, was subjected to a police raid.50 In response, there was a series of famous violent protests known as the Stonewall Riots. Since then, sex worker organizing has been a multi-faceted battle as this long-unprotected group fought to secure “human, labor, sexual, [and] civil rights.”51 The intersection of labor and sex worker organizing has been particularly interesting because, in many ways, the core issues of this group have come from the lack of worker protections afforded to them. Marx encompassed this idea when he wrote that “prostitution is only a specific expression of the general prostitution of the laborer.”52

Modern In the study of modern-day sex worker labor organizing, many look towards the United States because it has one of the “biggest and most advanced sex industries in the world.”53 Despite the industry’s size, the U.S. still criminalizes sex work, creating poor conditions for workers and resulting in many barriers to organizing. Additionally, many sex workers belong to groups who are limited in their employment options, including immigrant and transgender

Katrien Jacobs and Marije Janssen and Matteo Pasquinelli. ​C'Lick Me: A Netporn Studies Reader​ (Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2007), 70. 50 ​David Carter. ​Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution (​ New York: Griffin, 2004), 1. 51 Melinda Chateauvert. ​Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk​ (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014). 52 Karl Marx. ​Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844​ (New York: Dover Publications, 2007), 42. 53 ​Gregor Gall. ​Sex Worker Unionization: Global Developments, Challenges and Possibilities,​ (New York: Springer Publishing, 2016). 49


communities54, and are therefore forced to suffer under the criminalization of sex work. This paper will thus look at the criminalization of sex workers and how sex workers have organized in the modern context, and will cite relevant examples of sex worker organizing. From there, I will discuss what barriers currently work against organizing efforts, such as the criminalization of sex work and societal stigma. Sex workers across the U.S. live in a criminalized state. The criminalization of sex workers manifests itself in many ways, with its implications ranging from police officers arresting women for “engaging in prostitution” for their manner of dress, carrying condoms, or having large amounts of cash.55 It also means that sexual labor comes with the daily risk of arrest for misdemeanor offenses. The existence of these conditions has numerous negative implications. One study found that “[s]ex workers who had been exposed to repressive policing practices were on average at increased risk of infection with HIV/STI compared to those who had not.”56 Additionally, criminalization limits where sex workers can safely work and live, resulting in them “being pushed to work in areas that are isolated and less safe.”57 In essence, this means that sex workers currently exist in a state which puts them in harm’s way and results in them hiding in the shadows of society. To push back against the criminalization of their labor, modern-day sex workers have engaged in numerous methods of organizing. Sex workers’ modern-day labor organizing efforts aim to address these conditions and push back against the stigma around sex work. One method utilized to fight stigma is non-union collectivism, which has many faces such as “actions inside or outside the worksite, reliance upon the sex workers themselves or the expertise of third parties, and the fora of negotiation and settlement being within or without the worksite.”58 This is all to say that sex workers are banding together to effect change for themselves, even if this change isn’t the typical way through traditional labor has made gains. Some of these movements are spontaneous, with workers deciding collectively – although not through a union – to put an end to practices that they feel are wrong. Another organizing effort by sex workers is the use of a rights-based framework, which involves organizing by agitating for such rights as the right to work safely to counter the view that all sex workers are victims. To give a more concrete example of organizing efforts, in 2018 there was a stripper strike in New York City which focused on finding new ways to keep strikers safe. This strike, led by Gizelle Marie, centered around the rights-based framework. The effort was done in collaboration with the Sharmus Outlaw Advocacy and Rights (SOAR) Institute, which focuses on shifting the minds of stakeholders to effect change for the sex industry. This initial organizing effort has gained much traction, with the strike supplying a contingent to the NYC Women’s March and Molly Smith and Juno Mac. ​Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Workers' Rights (Memphis: Verso, 2018), 50. 55 ​Nuttbrock, Larry A., 2018. ​Transgender Sex Work and Society.​ 56 ​Nuttbrock, ​Transgender Work and Society.​ 57 ​Ibid. 58 ​Jackson, Crystal A. “Framing Sex Worker Rights: How U.S. Sex Worker Rights Activists Perceive and Respond to Mainstream Anti–Sex Trafficking Advocacy.” Sociological Perspectives 59, no. 1 (March 2016): 27–45. 54


then later to the Las Vegas Women’s March. To combat stigma, sex workers have sought to look at organizing frameworks in sex workers’ rights conferences by various groups such as the Desiree Alliance and an international conference held in Turkey called the “Conference on Sex Work and Human Rights.” There’s also been work done by other organizations such as the Sex Workers Outreach Project and the Red Umbrella Project. Both of these organizations advocate for sex workers and seek to uplift sex workers by putting their voices at the forefront of all organizing efforts. The stigma around sex work is reflective in the terms associated with the industry such as “whore,” “prostitute” and “hooker” – all derogatory terms that have negative connotations but are still frequently utilized in government policy.59 The usage of such terms separates sex workers from the rest of society, which can weaken public support for sex worker organizing efforts. Such stigma also results in violence for sex workers, who are not seen as victims due to the stigma around their labor.60 The stigma around sex work also emboldens the police to act against workers on a daily basis through excessive force, illegal searches and arrests without cause.

Policy Despite challenges of stigmatization and the lack of NLRA protections due to their independent contractor status, organizations such as Decrim NY are currently working on decriminalization campaigns to improve the lives of those who perform sexual labor by choice, circumstance, and coercion. The core tenets of the group are to decriminalize, decarcerate, and destigmatize sex work through their efforts. Organizers from these alt-labor groups specifically want the United States to adopt decriminalization policies instead of a legalization framework, which many states, such as Nevada and Rhode Island, have embraced. Such models, however, implement stringent regulations on how the performance of sexual services in exchange for money and goods would be conducted to prevent sex trafficking. Thus, making it more difficult for compliance and it would only serve to further criminalize sex workers. For example, in both Germany and Nevada, where sex work is legal, there has been a surge in the recorded number of sex worker arrests since legislation was passed. Decriminalization, unlike legalization, has had the backing of several international organizations like Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, UNAIDS, World Health Organization (WHO), Amnesty International, and other reputable organizations. These organizations cite their approval of this policy framework to studies that prove that decriminalization would decrease the current barriers to health insurance, and stop police taking away “contraband” such as condoms away from sex workers and likely reduce the higher risk of S. Mikael Jansson, Michaela Smith & Jackson Flagg (2018), “Prostitution Stigma and Its Effect on the Working Conditions, Personal Lives, and Health of Sex Workers,” The Journal of Sex Research​, 55: 4-5, 457-471. 60 Benoit, Jansson, Smith and Flagg, “Prostitution Stigma,” 457-471. 59

​Cecilia Benoit,


HIV. In fact, in a series of studies conducted by the WHO which indicated that decriminalizing sex work could lead up to a 46% reduction in new HIV contraction over a decade. Furthermore, the organizations point out that unlike what critics of the decriminalization framework have stated in the past, there is no increase in sex trafficking. For example, under the New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act, the sex industry has not increased in size nor has there been a rise of the sex trafficking of children and unconsenting adults since it’s implementation. New Zealand has not only chosen to decriminalize sex work, but has also allowed for more labor protections that the NLRA in the United States has not provided. For instance, New Zealand has allowed for sex workers to have employment contracts wherein they lay out hours, benefits, and wages. They also have a provision a clause wherein it stipulates that the person can refuse to provide sexual services, even if they are under this contract. This clause is particularly important, as it allows sex workers non-traditional terms of employment, which are necessary to ensure that consent is obtained. The New Zealand model also provides sex workers a record of employment for housing, protects workers from unreasonable employer demands, and establishes workers’ compensation if the sex worker is harmed, thus making it a desirable model for the United States to follow.


About Us The Undergraduate Labor Institute is a labor policy think-tank run by undergraduate students at Cornell University. We aim to give students a platform to research and create a collaborative policy document each semester, based on a specific predetermined theme associated with changes and problems in the workforce. Most of us will spend a substantial part of our lives in workplaces of various types, and thus we believe that the study of work is pertinent to the study of the human experience. We aim to make a considerable impact on workplace policies not only on Cornell’s campus, but also within the greater Ithaca community. Furthermore, we aim to analyze the effects of trends in the labor movement and in modern workplaces on the individual workers’ experience.

Acknowledgements Professor Ileen DeVault, Advisor The Worker Institute at Cornell University Professor Kate Griffith Atonye Ake, Graphic Designer This Research Paper is funded in part by The Student Assembly Finance Commission