The Workers’ Course Curriculum
Publication date – 1996
Developed by – The Workplace Project

Aims, objectives, and intended audience

The Workers’ Course was created as a requirement for individuals desiring to join the Workplace Project. The curriculum was designed to promote a sense of organizational membership, strengthen the community’s belief in the power of organizing, and build confident immigrant leaders. The material provides participants a basic understanding of workplace laws and rights, discusses the history of labor and immigration in the United States, and develops participants’ analytical and organizing skills.

This course is designed for immigrants, notably those who tend to fall within one of two groups: (1) people who come to the Workplace Project desiring legal assistance and must therefore take this course to gain access to legal representation; (2) people who have heard about the Workplace Project and have an interest in organizing take this course as a membership requirement. The materials recommend that group size be limited to 30 participants whenever possible.

The version of the curriculum reviewed here was created in 1996. However, The Workers’ Course has been adapted over time and may look very different in its current iteration.

Broad structure and key educational methods

The Workers’ Course is comprised of eight classes that meet one day or night per week for two hours. A ninth class was mentioned but not yet included in this curriculum. The classes are organized into three broad categories: legal rights, organizing models, and labor/immigration history.

These classes are supplemented by at least one field trip that provides participants first-hand experience with the organizing ideas discussed in class. Additional educational methods include a film and several role-play exercises. Some sessions are designed to accommodate outside speakers if desired. Most sessions of the curriculum also have a homework assignment, which is to read assigned chapters from the comic book Luchas Laborales (Labor Struggles).

Key topics or themes by module

1. Introduction to Course and Basic Wage and Hour Rights

Following some introductory material, this class opens by soliciting wage information from participants for the jobs they hold and then draws the participants into conversation regarding wage disparities. This transitions into a discussion of organizing and how collective action by workers can increase their power and raise wages. This idea of workers organizing to act as a collective is reiterated through an interactive exercise that highlights how organized teamwork yields positive results. Subsequent activities highlight minimum wage laws and have participants calculate whether they are being compensated fairly; they are then introduced to strategies they may pursue if they are not.

2. Labor and Immigration History

This session opens with a vignette that helps participants draw parallels between the experiences of immigrants who came before them as compared to their current situations. The ensuing conversations center on historical immigration patterns to the United States, how immigrants of different races and nationalities have been received by the United States, and how immigrants’ struggles shaped the labor movement over time.

3. Health and Safety (Part I)

This class focuses on workers’ right to a safe and healthy working environment. After discussing some of the common job hazards that participants have experienced, a representative from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) presents on health and safety laws and OSHA’s role in enforcing these mandates. The conversation that follows this presentation reflects on the limitations of OSHA and guides participants towards realizing how they can organize to pressure employers to respect their health and safety rights as workers.

4. Introduction to Organizing: Health and Safety (Part II)

Following a screening of the United Farm Workers film Uvas No (No Grapes), participants analyze the aims of the film and uncover the techniques that were employed in an effort to garner viewer’s support for the cause. The class then applies these same techniques during an exercise wherein participants identify a problem (labor-related or otherwise) and construct the framework for a campaign to gain support for this concern. The latter portion of this class session teaches about workers’ compensation laws and the requirements for applying for workers’ compensation following an injury.

5. Firing and Unemployment

This class provides information about firing and the implications of being “employed at will,” as well as extensive coverage of unemployment benefits, including eligibility requirements and the claims process.

6. Discrimination, Sexual Harassment and Organizing

After making a distinction between perceived discrimination and discrimination in a legal sense, this curricular material covers how to document discrimination and construct a case against an employer. A large portion of this session is devoted to a play (performed in fishbowl style) that places participants in roles such as a worker who was fired with a discrimination claim, one who was fired without a discrimination claim, and an employer who did the firing. The ensuing play addresses the negotiation process between the employer and the workers as they try to reacquire their jobs. The analysis that follows distinguishes between successful and less-impactful negotiation strategies and addresses why the negotiation process concluded as it did.

7. Unions and Organizing

This session provides a general overview of what a union is, how unions are structured, and how contracts are negotiated and implemented. A short play highlights some of the positive and negative aspects of unions, and an exercise helps participants consider the rights and benefits they would include in an “ideal” union contract.

8. Organizing

This final class provides several opportunities for participants to strategize and think creatively about organizing. Through several exercises, participants are given the opportunity to identify workplace problems, analyze the workplace power structure, practice building a network of supportive workers, consider how to approach management regarding their concerns, and then, contingent on the employer’s response, decide how proceed with subsequent action steps. This session highlights workplace power dynamics and teaches participants how to leverage their own power through collective actions such as producing publicity pieces (i.e., a radio commercial) and organizing a picket.

Curriculum acquisition information

This curriculum is not publicly available, but you could contact The Workplace Project for additional information.

The Workplace Project
91 N. Franklin St, Suite 207
Hempstead, NY 11550
Telephone: (516) 565-5377
Fax: (516) 565-5470
info@workplaceprojectny.org