Labor studies keeps pace with the changing world of work

Outsourcing and corporate social responsibility were unheard of when SF State's labor studies program was established in the 1970s. Those were the days when workers often stayed with one employer for life. Today, the program has revamped its curriculum and introduced new classes to keep pace with a global and increasingly complex labor scene.

Photo of Robert Reich

Robert Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at University of California, Berkeley

"Labor studies is no longer the old fashioned study of unions and employers," said John Logan, director and associate professor of labor studies. "Today there are more complex relationships in the labor market. There are new actors involved, such as nonprofit organizations, freelancers, contractors and temporary work agencies. The relationship between unions and employers is regulated by regional and international regulations as well as state and national laws."

Since joining the faculty in 2009, Logan has updated existing courses and designed new ones with an explicitly international focus. "Global issues have really come to the fore," Logan said. "U.S. corporations are subcontracting much of their manufacturing to emerging economies and multinational companies are sometimes as powerful as the countries they operate in."

A course on labor rights in the global economy debuted last fall, introducing students to the core labor rights established by the U.N.'s International Labor Organization.

This spring, students are taking a new course on corporate social responsibility. "Almost all corporations have policies and guidelines regulating their labor and employment standards, but there has been a lot of debate and skepticism about whether corporate social responsibility is an effective way to regulate a globalized economy," Logan said.

The course on corporate social responsibility will include a guest lecture on Wednesday, May 4 by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. He will speak on the topic "Will Corporate Social Responsibility Stop a Race to the Bottom in Labor Standards?" The lecture is open to the campus community and the public.

Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at University of California, Berkeley and author of "Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy and Everyday Life" and "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future."

New labor studies courses are lined up for fall 2011, see the class schedule for details.

Robert Reich will speak on Wednesday, May 4, 4 – 6 p.m. at the Seven Hills Conference Center. The lecture is free and open to the public.

-- Elaine Bible