September 18, 2019

SUNY Empire State College Announces New Future of Labor Research Center at the Rockefeller Institute of Government

Morton Bahr Future of Labor Research Center Fellowship Established in Honor of Legendary Labor Leader and Longtime Supporter of the Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor and Alumnus

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(NEW YORK, New York — Sept. 18, 2019) SUNY Empire State College’s Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor Studies and the Rockefeller Institute of Government are partnering to establish the Future of Labor Research Center to examine the changing nature of work, the future of work, workers, and worker organizations. 

The center will partner expert faculty from the School of Labor with public policy researchers and analysts at the Rockefeller Institute to conduct in-depth research on how new technologies, market trends, and public polices will affect work, workers, and worker organizations. Research will examine solutions addressing wage inequities, under-employment, new training and educational needs, retirement security, and opportunity for the workforce of the future. 

“The nature of jobs and employment are changing before our eyes,” said Jim Malatras, president of SUNY Empire State College. “Automation, artificial intelligence, and the ‘gig’ economy have limitless potential to improve our lives, but they are having a real impact on our labor force. It’s critical to have research focusing on the future of labor that will help to ensure the Empire State has the best policies to support its residents and to attract the best employers, and the jobs they bring.” 

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said, "This is a tremendous opportunity to ensure that New York State once again leads the way when it comes to protecting the workforce of future generations. As we achieve advancements in worker related technologies, it’s imperative that we ensure workers' rights and benefits are not undermined by misclassification and that we protect their right to organize and negotiate their wages, benefits and working conditions now and in the future." 

Sharon Szymanski, a faculty member with the School of Labor, will co-chair the center with Associate Professor Jason Russell of SUNY Empire’s School for Graduate Studies. Their research emphasis on workers, economics, and public policy uniquely positions them to partner with the Rockefeller Institute to launch the center. 

Rockefeller Institute of Government Senior Economist and Director of Fiscal Studies Laura Schultz, who has written extensively on the effects of automation and AI on the workforce, will serve as the center’s policy expert. Liz Farmer, formerly of GOVERNING magazine, and an expert in public finance, regional economy and development, and changing local socio-economic structures, will join the new center as a fellow. 

The center will critically examine the forces impacting workers in the global economy, including workplace changes with the rise of the contingent workforce, AI, and automation. The center will explore responses to these changes and provide policymakers recommendations to protect workers while fostering the new economy. As part of the kickoff, the center will also be hosting a forum on the future of work and labor rules in the gig economy. 

The center will also inaugurate the Morton Bahr Fellowship in honor of the legendary labor leader, alumnus, and supporter of the School of Labor, who passed away earlier this year. Bahr ’83, ‘95 led the Communications Workers of America for 20 years during some of the industry’s most tumultuous times, helping workers adapt and protect themselves through the difficult transition to the digital era. Bahr was also a true believer in lifelong learning and SUNY Empire, raising funds for a full scholarship for union members and their families that now bears his name. 

Communications Workers of America President Christopher Shelton said, “I can think of no better way to honor President Bahr than by establishing this fellowship. President Bahr began his career as a telegraph operator and led CWA through a period of tremendous technological change in the telecommunications industry. This fellowship will provide a foundation for a new generation of leaders to address the challenges of a changing economy and workforce.” 

“The creation of SUNY’s School of Labor was inspired by visionary union leaders who believed in the dignity of work and the power of education,” said Lynne Dodson, associate dean of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor Studies. “At a time of tremendous economic inequality and changes in the conditions of work, partnering with the Rockefeller Institute to explore Labor’s role and resilience is one way we can live up to the Empire State College commitment to ‘promoting social justice and a sustainable world through responsiveness to human and social circumstances.’” 

“The nature of work is changing under our feet in ways that promise to transform not only large sectors of the workforce, but of society as a whole,” said Rockefeller Institute Interim Executive Director Patricia Strach. “As a public policy research institution, the Rockefeller Institute can and should play a key role in studying these trends to help policymakers and stakeholders make sense of the changes around them — and the changes just around the corner. Benefiting from the deep expertise of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor at SUNY Empire State College, the new Future of Labor Center will be a vital source of research, policy analysis, and insight on this topic.” 

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 Business Manager Christopher Erikson said, “I would like to reiterate a 1938 quote from Harry Van Arsdale, Jr., ‘There are many pressing problems facing the working men and women of this country today and present indications are that the problems will increase. If these problems are to be solved properly, the workers must find the solutions themselves. In order to do this, they must know how to study, analyze, discuss, introduce and put into effect the remedies ...’ Congratulations on the Future of Labor Research Center and I wish you much success in your ongoing educational endeavors.” 

The acquisition of a college degree is an explicit requirement of IBEW Local 3 apprenticeship training, which is completed through its partnership with the college’s School of Labor Studies and Local 3.  

United Association of Plumbers and Gas-Fitters Local 1 Director of Trade Education Arthur Klock said, “As the definition of ‘work’ changes faster than ever, we must prepare ourselves to imminently face a world where technology will re-shape or eliminate countless current job titles. Climate change and the switch from fossil fuels will undoubtedly add to workforce instability. Additionally, we face a new rise of corporate tech giants to rival the robber barons of yesteryear, and an increasing acceptance of the idea that the middle class is dying. New York must find the new job opportunities, train and re-train our workforce, while striving toward a society where no human being is unimportant. In order to succeed, our decision makers in Government and Labor must be given the most powerful tools of all – research driven relevant information.” 

The college’s School of Labor partnership with UA Local 1 enables members and apprentices to complete an Associate in Science in Labor Studies degree. 

“Research data, analysis, and critical thinking, are the tools we will use to build stronger policies and make better decisions about wages, work conditions, training and education, and more, in a rapidly and ever-changing global economy,” said alumna and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers General Secretary-Treasurer Dora Cervantes ‘19, who completed a Master of Arts in Work and Labor Studies through the IAM’s partnership with SUNY Empire’s School for Graduate Studies. “I commend SUNY Empire and the Rockefeller Institute for establishing the new Future of Labor Research Center as an important step forward for workers everywhere.”

Frederick E. Kowal, president, United University Professions said, “UUP is gratified to see the establishment of two important additions to labor studies in New York, arguably the country’s most labor-proud state. The establishment of the Future of Labor Research Center at Empire State College couldn’t come at a better time, when labor unions are defying the naysayers by attracting a whole new generation of young activists who know that unions made their parents’ lives better. The Morton Bahr Future of Labor Research Center Fellowship honors a great labor leader, and will give scholars an opportunity to do important fact-finding to give policymakers and the public a deeper understanding of the role of the labor movement in this country and how we can improve the lives of working people. UUP members at Empire State College welcome these two additions to their campus, as do our members throughout SUNY.”

About the SUNY Empire State College Harry Van Arsdale, Jr. School of Labor Studies

The Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor Studies — formerly the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies — was founded in 1971 to provide union members with a liberal arts education. This mission is consistent with Van Arsdale’s belief that every worker should have the opportunity to earn an education to fully participate in American democracy.

About the Rockefeller Institute of Government

The Rockefeller Institute of Government is the public policy research arm of the State University of New York. The Institute conducts cutting-edge research and analysis to inform lasting solutions to the problems facing New York State and the nation.  |  @RockefellerInst