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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Development of Sectoral Worker Center Networks


In this article, we argue that understanding the impact of economic structures on low-wage workers requires the study of emerging worker centers and networks and that individual labor market outcomes and experiences are mediated and impacted by the work of these institutions. We focus on the formation of sectoral worker center networks and address three key issues: (1) What are some of the reasons why worker centers and worker center networks have developed? (2) How do these organizations manage their roles as labor market institutions and social movement organizations? and (3) Why did worker center networks focus on employment and in particular sectors of the low-wage labor market? We find that sector-based organizing (1) facilitates the development of worker- and sector-targeted service strategies, thereby enabling low-wage worker groups and organizations to better achieve their service and policy goals; (2) maximizes opportunities for the organizations to obtain national resources; and (3) expands the reach of organizational networks by bringing organizations together to share resources and best practices. By providing a range of worker-, employment-, and labor market–centered services in specific labor market sectors, worker centers and their networks solidify their role as labor market institutions and become more effective advocacy and social movement organizations.

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