Immigrant Workers Centers in Eastern Massachusetts, USA: Fostering Services, Support, Advocacy, and Community Organizing

  • Humberto Reynoso-Vallejo University of Massachusetts Medical School
  • Lee Staples Boston University School of Social Work
Keywords: Immigrant Worker Centers, Workers Rights, Social Justice, Direct Action, Community Organizing.


Immigrant Workers Centers (IWCs) are community-based organizations that have been developed in the United States to promote and protect workers’ rights through support, services, advocacy, and organizing initiatives. The purpose of this research study was to examine how IWCs in the Eastern part of the state of Massachusetts are structured along twelve dimensions of organizational development and community organizing. Qualitative research methods were used to identify shared themes within the six IWCs and three immigrant support organizations, as well as their organizational responses to the current anti-immigrant environment. IWCs constituted a convenience sample which enabled the researchers to gather data utilizing a case study methodology. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted between the months of July and September of 2009 to answer the following research questions: 1)What are the shared themes for the development of Immigrant Workers Centers?, and 2) How do Immigrant Workers Centers respond to current anti-immigrant sentiment, intolerant immigration policies, and increased exploitation in this troubled economy? Shared themes among the IWCs include prioritizing community organizing for workers’ rights and collective empowerment. Sub-modalities such as education, training and leadership development area common feature. While some individual support is provided, and in some cases, programming, it always is offered within a context that emphasizes the need for collective action to overcome injustice. Issues addressed include health/safety, sexual harassment, discrimination, and various problems associated with wages (underpayment, missed payments, collecting back wages, and lack of overtime pay). IWCs respond to antiimmigrant policies and practices by supporting larger efforts for immigration reformat the municipal, state, and federal levels. Coalitions of IWCS and their allies attempt to make state wide and federal policy changes by using a variety of organizing tactics, including legislative lobbying, media events, rallies, marches, vigils and a variety of direct actions. The community organizing principles and methods employed by IWC s are consistent with the theoretical tenets of social pedagogy, and given the increasing number of immigrant workers experiencing growing hostility and deteriorating working conditions in Europe, the applicability of this new model should be considered by both scholars and practitioners.


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