Despite enormous challenges in organizing and bargaining in a rapidly changing global economy, this is a time of great opportunity for, and innovation by, U.S. unions and their allies. Along with a resurgence of action among working people, there has been a new level of inventiveness in campaigning, evident in recent union organizing and bargaining victories:
- Low-wage workers in the fast-food and retail industries have taken on the world's largest and most well-known transnational firms with the most basic demands: a living wage of $15 an hour, safe working conditions, and a union. They have struck and engaged in civil disobedience in cities across the U.S. and, in doing so, have changed the national discourse about corporate and government responsibility for workers.
- These campaigns are often multinational and multi-union. Teamsters and Unite Here won a successful card check to represent a combined total of 900 employees in Harrah's Hotel and Casino in New Orleans. In May 2014, workers in 30 countries protested in solidarity with the Fight for 15 in fast food in the U.S. In January, Coca-Cola workers in Guatemala became 100 percent organized in a multi-union campaign under the leadership of the Global Union Federation for the food industry (IUF). This followed on the heels of a similar IUF-led victory in Pakistan. In both cases the workers, organizers, and the Global Union had to overcome enormous hostility and repression.
- There has been an increase in rank-and-file community-based campaigns in a broad range of occupations and industries that either do not fit under the NLRB format or are specifically denied employee status, including collegiate athletes at Northwestern University; car-wash workers organizing with RWDSU in New York and the Steelworkers on the West Coast; Domestic Workers United gaining employee status in New York and California and collective bargaining rights in New York after a historic struggle; and the Model Alliance, connecting with workers along the apparel supply chain to take on some of the most powerful players in the apparel and fashion industry.
These victories came about because of a combination of grassroots rank-and-file mobilizing and leadership development, and escalating actions in the workplace and broader community—but fundamental to all these campaigns was careful strategic research.
Unfortunately, the U.S. labor movement today is facing a critical shortage of organizing, bargaining, and campaign staff with strategic research training who understand both corporate structure and finance and union campaign strategies. Twelve years ago, to help meet this need, the AFL-CIO asked the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations to develop a one-week intensive credit course on strategic corporate research for graduate students and upper-level undergraduates interested in working with the labor movement upon completion of their degrees.
The course will be available as either a non-credit course or as a 1.5-credit undergraduate course with an additional research and writing assignment. Those interested in pursuing strategic corporate research positions within unions are strongly advised to take the course for credit so that they will have the additional experience of researching an actual corporation, and have a completed strategic research report to show prospective union employers.
This course will be designed to provide a comprehensive introduction to the nature and structure of corporate ownership, finance, and power in today's economy. Through lectures, readings, case studies, research training, and exercises the class will provide students with the tools to pose and answer basic questions on the operations, structure, and industrial relations strategies of corporate America. In particular, this course will focus on how these company characteristics, structures, and practices impact the firm's labor relations policies and strategies and how unions can best respond to and capitalize on these characteristics in union comprehensive organizing and bargaining campaigns.
The course will also provide in-depth hands-on training in the online and library research tools required to conduct strategic corporate research. As part of this course students will work through a series of case studies dealing with diverse firms and industries, as well as have an opportunity to conduct in-depth research on an actual firm in the context of union organizing or bargaining.
Because of the limited time available while students are here on campus, they will be sent books and a course pack several weeks before the class takes place to give them an opportunity to complete all the reading before they arrive. In addition to reading assignments, there will be short written exercises and class presentations to be completed while the class is in session. Students taking the course for credit will be required to conduct independent research and write a paper of twenty-five to thirty pages, summarizing comprehensive corporate research and analysis for a designated company. The final paper will be due six weeks after the class and will count for fifty percent of the grade for the course.