On February 11, 2016, the Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO) at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations convened close to 40 participants at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) in Washington, D.C. for a discussion about membership-building and income generation for worker and community organizations in the economic justice movement. Rutgers’ Center for Innovation in Worker Organization Director Marilyn Sneiderman, Research and Strategy Director Janice Fine, and Senior Progam and Communications Advisor Marjorie Wood organized the event to explore the possibility of creating a community of practice and learning that would share strategies, ideas, lessons and resources about membership-building and income generation. This community of practice and learning would be supported by Rutgers’ CIWO.
At least since the 1970s, there has been a decline in membership-based institutions that formed the backbone of civil society. Newer institutions like worker centers have strong participation and leadership but are just beginning to figure out how to build more formal membership-based organizations that are financially sustainable. Labor unions, meanwhile, have faced the prospect of losing agency fees in the pending Friedrichs decision, which could devastate their ability to collect dues.
The organizations that attended the February 11 gathering expressed a sense of urgency and strong interest in creating a community of practice and learning that would be supported by Rutgers’ Center for Innovation in Worker Organization. Represented at the conference were unions, worker centers, and community organizing networks. Lead organizers from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the National Education Association, the Communications Workers of America, the Industrial Areas Foundation, Citizen Action, Coworker.org, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Center for Popular Democracy, and others candidly discussed the challenges they are facing in the work they are leading.
Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations’ Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO) was launched in 2014 to help generate and disseminate new ideas, strategies, and programs to address the changing workplace, growing precarious workforce and rising economic inequality by engaging and collaborating with top staff, leaders and activists from labor unions, worker centers and community based organizations.
The center seeks to enrich the economic justice movement through innovative research, exploring and synthesizing the scholarly literature on these topics, capturing and disseminating lessons from experimentation that is underway, and organizing convenings where key activists are brought together across organizations and networks. The goals of the center are to strengthen the capacity of social and economic justice organizations to recruit and grow their membership, become more financially sustainable, build the bench of future leaders and support them in their efforts toward greater corporate social responsibility. The center also seeks to provide a centralized resource for these organizations to turn to for real-time information and strategies that help build greater momentum in their collective mission to shift the balance of power in the changing 21st century workplace and economy to restore equity.
The Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations’ Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO) addresses our nation’s rising economic inequality, precarious workforce, and racial inequality by developing innovative research, strategies and programs.
Through our work, we aim to strengthen the role of civil institutions including community organizations, worker centers, and labor unions.