Professor Ruth Milkman and Ph.D. Candidate Luke Elliott-Negri Awarded Grant for Study of Food Workers and Collective Action in Light of the Coronavirus Pandemic

Ruth Milkman and Luke Elliott-Negri (Photos courtesy of Milkman and Elliott-Negri)

Graduate Center Distinguished Professor Ruth Milkman (GC/School of Labor and Urban Studies, Sociology) and Ph.D. candidate Luke Elliott-Negri (Sociology) were awarded a grant of $48,300 from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth for research on collective labor action in businesses where work has been made more dangerous by the coronavirus pandemic. They share the grant with Columbia University faculty members Suresh Naidu and Adam Reich. 

They are among 46 social scientists awarded $1.07 million in grants, the largest amount to date given by Equitable Growth, for research that addresses issues of racial and social inequality and economic growth. 

“For too long, the field of economics has ignored the intersection of race and power in research agendas,” said Heather Boushey, president and CEO of Equitable Growth, in announcing the awards. “That must change. At Equitable Growth, we commit to doing our part by funding more research based on the lived experience and legacy of structural racism.”

Milkman and Elliott-Negri and their colleagues will conduct two surveys to understand the role customers might play as a source of support and power for workers who strike or protest working conditions, as well as the impact of job quality on decisions by workers to leave a current job. One survey will focus on food workers, including employees at meat processing plants, grocery stores, restaurants, and platform-based food delivery companies such as Instacart to understand their willingness to work under conditions made even more risky by the coronavirus pandemic and how they view their jobs. The second will survey a nationally representative sample of the United States population to assess food purchasing habits and perceptions of food-chain workers and collective action.

The grant recognizes the timeliness of their research, which “promises to bring worker views into the public discussion of quality jobs, including welfare and safety, and to shed light on how workers and customers are intertwined in workplace issues.”

Milkman is a renowned scholar of labor and labor movements, with joint faculty appointments at The Graduate Center and the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies, where she chairs the labor studies department. Her latest book is Immigrant Labor and the New Precariat. Her policy-oriented research includes studies of wage theft, unionization trends, paid sick leave, and the aging workforce. 

Elliott-Negri is a Graduate Center doctoral candidate in sociology and a research associate at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies. His research has been published in Social Problems, Social Movement Studies; New Labor Forum; and PS: Political Science and Politics, among other journals. His dissertation is a history of the New York–based Working Families Party, set against the backdrop of countless labor party failures in the United States. A leader of the Professional Staff Congress, the union that represents 30,000 faculty and staff at The City University of New York, Elliott-Negri was selected this past April as one of the top 40 labor leaders under 40 years of age in New York City by City and State Magazine.

Submitted on: OCT 16, 2020

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