ABOUT ON THE JOB
Union membership in America has been a tale of relentless, decades-long decline, as anti-union rhetoric and campaigns in business and government systematically dismantle workers’ rights. Too often, workers are afraid to take advantage of even the meager rights they do have. For over 60 million people, employment in America means inadequate wages, job insecurity, and unsafe jobs, all exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. But against these seemingly impossible odds, there’s a new workers’ movement sweeping the nation, bringing hope.
On the Job is the first account of a new kind of labor movement, one that is happening locally, quietly, and among our country’s most vulnerable – but essential – workers.
Noted public health expert Celeste Monforton and award-winning journalist Jane M. Von Bergen crisscrossed the country, speaking with workers of all backgrounds and uncovering the stories from 12 of these worker-led organizations. They are among the 200 worker centers in the United States that have successfully achieved higher wages, safer working conditions, and on-the-job dignity for their members.
On the Job describes ordinary people finding their voice and challenging power: from housekeepers in Chicago and Houston to poultry workers in St. Cloud, Minnesota and day laborers in Graton, California, as well as construction workers across the state of Texas. An inspiring book for these times, On the Job reveals that labor activism is actually alive and growing – and holds the key to a different future for all people.
"The inspiring story of worker centers that are cropping up across the country and leading the fight for today's workers."
“These are not your parents’ labor unions—an excellent introduction to a burgeoning and necessary movement.” Read more
– KIRKUS BOOK REVIEWS
“On the Job might be the most important book about work and organizing in years. Since the 1970s, newspapers have talked endlessly about the demise of unions, but these reports, as Celeste Monforton and Jane M. Von Bergen make clear in their graceful and eye-opening new book, are missing the real story. This small-scale organizing is perhaps the start of something really big, a new grassroots labor movement in the United States!"
– BRYANT SIMON, AUTHOR OF THE HAMLET FIRE, EVERYTHING BUT THE COFFEE, and BOARDWALK OF DREAMS
"The authors lucidly explain the issues facing low-wage workers, and vividly sketch the activists behind these campaigns. This timely and well-documented account offers hope for the future of the American labor movement.” Read more.
– PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
"On the Job is a series of powerful accounts that reassert the critical role that worker centers play in lifting the voices of our most vulnerable and essential workers. They have the opportunity to level the playing field, to give workers a better chance at a better life. Now, more than ever, it is essential these stories be heard and acted upon."
– CONGRESSWOMAN ROSA DeLAURO, D-CT, HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE CHAIR, AUTHOR OF THE LEAST AMONG US
“"Readers interested in labor politics, labor relations, and related activism, as well as the impact of COVID-19 on labor, will glean much inspiration and insight into how workers have mobilized and advocated for higher wages, safer working conditions, and respect and dignity, even during the midst of a global pandemic.”
"Decades before COVID-19 exposed the health and safety concerns for essential workers, worker centers have quietly and tirelessly mobilized meatpackers, nannies, day laborers, and others in the hardest-to-reach industries to demand decent pay and working conditions. On the Job is a timely and necessary recounting of how these groups have catalyzed worker voice and agency, offering an inspiring account of the transformation that results when workers are empowered to serve as agents of change."
– BERNICE YEUNG, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST, PROPUBLICA, AND AUTHOR OF IN A DAY'S WORK
"I was predisposed to like On the Job, but I didn’t realize until I actually opened it for the first time how delightful it would be to read. Short chapters breeze by with tales of different workers and worker centers, containing just enough details and quotes to paint a vivid picture.... Monforton and Von Bergen have created an accessible book that’s both educational and enjoyable, and reading it is well worth your time." READ MORE
– LIZ BORKOWSKI, SENIOR RESEARCH SCIENTIST, MILKEN INSTITUTE SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH, THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY.
"Celeste Monforton and Jane M. Von Bergen’s new book is an excellent introduction to the complicated politics of worker centers. They are not a
panacea for rebuilding the union movement in America. But they are nevertheless a way for workers to have some level of voice on the job and in their lives." READ MORE
– ERIK LOOMIS, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF HISTORY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND. REVIEWING FOR NEW SOLUTIONS: A JOURNAL OF ENVIRONMENAL AND OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH POLICY.
SAFE SPACE,OPEN HEARTS
Milagros Barreto, organizer, MassCOSH, comforts a member. I. George Bilyk
Outside a steady rain soaked the streets of East Boston, an immigrant neighborhood so new to gentrification that Spanish mercados have yet to give way to cafés selling lattes and craft beers.
On the windows of the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center’s Education & Training Institute, the rain coursed down the panes like tears. Inside, wearing a shirt that said, “No Bad Day in Aruba,” a woman was crying. Of course, East Boston isn’t Aruba.
And truthfully, Saturday wasn’t a bad day for the woman, either. In some ways, it was a relief. There, in a room filled with 15 immigrants, she could tell her story. Milagros Barreto, organizer for the Immigrant Worker Center, put her arms around the woman, offering comfort and Kleenex. No name for this woman. She was too ashamed.
At the moment, Barreto’s work wasn’t about job safety, or wage theft, or the economy, or any of the other important issues that draw people to trainings held by the Immigrant Worker Center, a project of the Massachusetts Coalition of Occupational Safety and Health, known as MassCOSH.
“This space opens her heart,” Barreto said. “It opens hearts and minds.”
On the agenda for the Immigrant Worker Center that day was a session of the center’s Leadership Institute.
To lead, knowledge matters, so on that rainy Saturday, the knowledge was in the form of economic training….