Strategic Options for Development of a Worker Center

Chesa Boudin, Yale Law School
Rebecca Scholtz, Yale Law School


This Article examines organizing structures and methods that have been successfully implemented by unions and worker centers around the country in high-immigrant, low-wage sectors. We analyze the legal, policy, and organizing implications of four structures, in light of the experiences of worker organizations that have adopted each one.

The challenges facing workers attempting to organize are complex and multifaceted. This is, perhaps, especially true in decentralized industries, atomized workplaces, and in immigrant-dominated sectors of employment. Labor organizers confront constantly changing economic conditions and legal frameworks. These changing conditions generate new additions to the traditional panoply of organizing strategies and structures that merit analysis.

However, there has been little critical examination of the innovative strategies that are or could be used to achieve justice in the immigrant and low-wage worker community across different industries, in different parts of the country, and in different types of worker-based organizations. This Article begins to fill that lacuna by providing a broad, comprehensive, and up-to-date examination of organizing approaches that have been successfully implemented in low-wage and immigrant communities, taking into consideration changes in laws, the economy, and workforce demographics.

The Article offers both a general survey of available organizing structures and a normative analysis of those structures. The central argument of this Article is that, in most cases, regardless of the long-term organizing goals a group of workers or an organization may have, the first and primary step should be developing a worker center or similar organization. We argue that the development of a worker center is a necessary prerequisite for most labor organizing within the low-wage immigrant workforce.

This Article is organized into four sections. Section I explores the traditional worker center model. Section II focuses on one of the structural options available to organizations wishing to organize low-wage and immigrant workers: establishment of an independent union. Section III examines government-brokered codes of conduct, in which labor enforcement officials agree to stay hand in exchange for employer compliance. Section IV analyses partnerships or affiliations with international or national unions.