Millions of immigrant workers are mainstays of America's service, manufacturing, and agricultural labor markets. Despite the obstacles of low wages, discrimination, uncertain status, and the decline of many local civic institutions, these workers are building vibrant communities and organizing to achieve economic and political influence. In the past, political parties, unions, fraternal organizations, and mutual aid societies were important vehicles for immigrant political and economic integration and together comprised a civic infrastructure for workers striving to improve their prospects. But today, especially at the local level, these institutions are much weaker. An important new institution, the worker center, emerged in the final decades of the last century and is playing a central role in helping immigrant workers access services, advocate for their rights and organize to improve wages, working conditions, neighborhoods, and public schools.
The goal of this study was to identify various worker center models, evaluate their effectiveness in improving the lives of workers and highlight their current strengths, weaknesses, challenges, and potential. The Neighborhood Funders Group, which sponsored this research with the Economic Policy Institute, hopes this study will provide new information to funders, practitioners, labor unions, religious institutions, and public policy-makers.