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Labor Innovations for the 21st Century (LIFT) Fund Announces 2015 Grantees

$585,000 given to 17 worker center-union partnerships nationwide, highlighting innovations and success in new forms of organizing 

Today, the LIFT Fund announced its 2015 grantees, awarding $585,000 to 17 worker centers partnering with labor unions nationwide – from Mississippi and New Mexico to Tennessee and New York – that support building worker power using new, innovative forms of organizing.

Grantees span regions, sectors and size—from seafood workers at Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores in Massachusetts, to hospitality workers at Nashville’s Workers Dignity Dignidad Obrera, to construction workers at the Los Angeles Black Workers Center.

At a time of unprecedented income inequality, precarious work and depressed wages, workers are more atomized than ever. Yet those at the edges of the economy are finding strength in numbers and discovering promising new ways to advance worker justice. They are building at the grassroots, organizing through campaigns that combat wage theft and discriminatory hiring practices, and creating strong enforcement mechanisms. These efforts are raising the living wage, improving labor standards across supply chains, and providing models for how to do it sustainably and at an increasingly larger scale. 

Through a partnership between foundations, including the Ford Foundation, General Service Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Solidago Foundation, and the AFL-CIO, the LIFT Fund is identifying and supporting these new worker-organizing models in order to facilitate broad impact and shared knowledge. The goal is to build infrastructure for the long haul: resources, spaces for relationship building, academic research and collaborations that produce strategies to drive industry-wide changes and support worker justice. These efforts aim to increase worker power, build nonunion-worker organization, and improve the living conditions of communities that are majority people of color and immigrants. 

“Black workers are leading the struggle for economic justice in Los Angeles, and this partnership is a powerful example of how to fuel the fight for a fair economy that puts our families first,” said Lola Smallwood Cuevas, Co-founder and Coordinating Committee Chair of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center. “The LIFT Fund’s grant is a recognition of what works and a model of how to create fertile ground for organizing for years to come.”

Centro Comunitaro de Trabajadores is working with the National Guestworkers Alliance and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) to better the working conditions throughout the seafood supply chain in the second-most profitable seafood processing port in the country; the Los Angeles Black Workers Center is working with the LA County Labor Federation to fight for a world-class Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement to address exclusionary practices in the construction and garment industries, push for fair wages, and combat a host of other worker issues through a racial justice lens. Workers Dignity Dignidad Obrera is working with the Iron Workers International to fight some of the nation’s worst labor conditions at publicly subsidized construction sites and hotels by building workplace organizing committees and launching public-pressure campaigns around municipal funding cycles. 

“In Nashville, we are pioneering new forms of organizing to combat truly abhorrent labor conditions, so the LIFT Fund’s support is vital,” said Garrett Stark of Ironworkers International Union. “Our close working relationship with Workers Dignity Dignidad Obrera will have implications for workers across the country. We are proud to be part of it.”

Established in 2011, the LIFT Fund is a first-of-its kind partnership between worker centers, labor unions, academics in the field, and philanthropic institutions to support investment in projects that build worker power through collaboration between worker centers and labor unions. To date, it has awarded more than $1.5 million in grants to 38 worker centers in 15 states. The Fund documents ongoing innovations and successes and sponsors cross-sector, field-level gatherings to share what has been learned. 

“The LIFT Fund creates an exceptional space for grantees and partners to bring together emerging and sometimes experimental innovations with concrete, tried-and-true power building strategies,” said Aditi Vaidya of the Solidago Foundation. “It is at these intersections that we can lift up and amplify the most promising, ambitious models for the future of worker organizing.”

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