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Fighting for worker rights takes psychological toll

Bottom up workplace law enforcement – which occurs when an individual worker files a claim against their employer – fails to protect the workers who are the most vulnerable to workplace rights violations.  According to new research from ILR Professor Shannon Gleeson and coauthor Jacob Lesniewski, even workers that have legal knowledge and incentives to bring forward claims do so at an emotional cost that makes individual action unsustainable on a broad scale.

Additionally, Gleeson and her co-author argue that those burdens are not just felt by the individual, but also by the worker center activists who work to obtain justice for workers. In the absence of robust enforcement mechanisms to ensure workers are being paid properly, and are not subject to unsafe working conditions or discrimination and harassment, these community groups often become the last line of defense for the overwhelming majority of nonunionized workers.

“We always want to celebrate workers coming forward to rally for their rights,” Gleeson said, who is also a professor in the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy. “It’s inspirational to hear those stories, but in reality, it’s unsustainable as a primary mechanism of ensuring employer compliance. And actually, what our research found was that it can be very traumatic for workers themselves to have to constantly come forward and demand redress.”

A full version of this story appears on the ILR website.
Julie Greco is a Communications Specialist at the ILR School.

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