, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 1-21
Date: 06 Nov 2012

Organizing Workfare Workers as Contingent Employees: Lessons from the New York City “Work Experience Program” Worker Unionization Campaign, 1996–1997

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Abstract

The stated goal of the nation’s largest workfare program, New York City’s “Work Experience Program” (WEP), is to provide welfare recipients with adequate training and relevant job experience so that they can successfully compete for work in the private sector. When it became apparent that the program was not living up to its stated ideals, the workfare workers began a union organizing drive late in 1996. However, the city administration formally opposed the unionization campaign on economic grounds and by arguing that workfare workers were not employees per se. In this article, I argue that workfare workers are a type of contingent public sector employee, discuss and analyze the New York City WEP worker unionization campaign and provide recommendations how this drive could have used the idea that workfare workers are contingent public sector employees in pursuit of a potentially more successful outcome.