Method: This study combines participant-observation ethnography with key informant interviews and focus groups. Participant observation was used to identify organizational practices, understand the general trajectory of a workplace justice campaign, and observe membership building activities. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 10 worker-members (Latino immigrants, gender diverse) who had participated in a workplace justice campaign. Interviews were also conducted with 3 individual staff members as well as 4 outside government bureaucrats and 2 staffers from the workers center's national network. Finally, two focus groups were conducted, one with workers center staff and another with staff from allied workers rights and immigrant rights organizations.
Results: The analyses yielded descriptive information about the nature of workers center practice, the political and regulatory context facing workers centers, the trajectories, challenges and successes of workplace justice campaigns and reflections by workers center staff, allies, and worker-members on the role of the workers center in building power for low-wage workers. It became clear that the worker center studied a) produces a certain discourse and set of behaviors in worker-members that can translate to movement building activities b) is important in the social construction of workplace law violations as social and policy problems c) is an important community partner and ally for the agencies involved in enforcing labor regulations. It is also clear that the workers center studied was engaged in this kind of “radical social service delivery” because of a) staff and organizational ideology b) an experimental process that produced organizational practices and c) its connection to extant social movements. Finally, the role of the variegated state regulatory apparatus was found to an important contextual factor.
Conclusions and Implications: This study provides a thick description of workers center practice. It describes a set of organization practices useful to social workers attempting to deliver services that empower clients to engage in advocacy and organizing, and assist social movement scholars in their analysis of the workers center movement. It also provides a critical reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of workers center practice for those engaged in attempts to change conditions of work for low-wage workers.