ILR partnering with HBCUs to study Black worker organizing

An ILR School researcher, Jobs with Justice and the Center for Economic Policy Research have secured a $450,000 grant from WorkRise for a project to improve economic security and mobility for low-wage workers and create a more equitable labor market in the South.

Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research and senior lecturer at the ILR School, and three other principal investigators will lead a team of researchers, including scholars from five historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), as they conduct an in-depth study of worker organizing by Black workers in five sites across the South.

“Advancing Black Workers in the South: An HBCU Research Initiative” will be a partnership between Bronfenbrenner; the Jobs With Justice Education Fund; Algernon Austin of the Center for Economic Policy Research; Clark Atlanta University; Clinton College; Jackson State University; Norfolk State University and the University of Texas, Arlington.

The project will have two phases. First, Bronfenbrenner and Austin will build the research capacity of scholars at the HBCUs by providing support and training to the research teams as they conduct field surveys on organizing strategies, workplace practices and working conditions.

“I've been doing research for a long time, but trying to get a younger generation of scholars involved is something I see as the most important thing I can do,” she said.

The second phase will produce community case studies and comparative analyses, yielding richer detail on the experiences of Black workers in the South.  

“It will help us to get an idea of the economic, social and political factors that impact working conditions and worker rights,” Bronfenbrenner said.

Surveys and case studies will examine the following organizing efforts:

  • Clark Atlanta University (Atlanta, Georgia), under the direction of Joseph Jones, executive director, W.E.B. DuBois Southern Center for the Study of Public Policy, will study the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades campaign to organize Black workers in the finishing trades in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Clinton College (Rock Hill, South Carolina), under the direction of Harriett Hobbs, vice president of institutional planning, effectiveness, accreditation and research, will study the United Steelworkers campaign to organize 750 Black industrial workers in South Carolina.
  • Jackson State University (Jackson, Mississippi), under the direction of Berneece Herbert, associate professor and chair, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, will study the Jobs to Move America campaign to organize Black incarcerated workers in Mississippi and other Southern States.
  • Norfolk State University (Norfolk, Virginia), under the direction of Robert K. Perkins, associate professor of sociology, will study the United Electrical Workers campaign to organize and gain collective bargaining rights for 4,600 municipal workers in the Virginia Tidewater Region.
  • University of Texas, Arlington, under the direction of Jandel Crutchfield, assistant professor, School of Social Work, will study the Communications Workers of America campaign in Dallas, Texas, to ensure equitable local government distribution of federal funds to those impacted by the digital divide.

According to Bronfenbrenner, the grant will also allow her and Austin to support a new generation of researchers in an area of the country where labor studies are often overlooked. Throughout the project, the duo will train students on how to conduct survey research, as well as how to conduct qualitative case study and community case study research.

“There are lots of scholars in the North, but they’re not writing about the South, nor should they be,” Bronfenbrenner said. “This can help fill that void.”

More than 120 teams applied for funding in response to WorkRise’s proposal request launched earlier this year. Seventeen finalists were then invited to submit full proposals, from which 12 were chosen to receive funding following a review by WorkRise’s selection committee, leadership board and peer reviewers with research expertise in the fields covered.

Julie Greco is a senior communications specialist in the ILR School.

Media Contact

Adam Allington