American Sociological Association

Sociology in Action: Stephen Philion

Stephen Philion, St. Cloud State University, works with the Greater Minnesota Worker Center (GMWC) in St. Cloud, MN, on immigrant workers' rights. ASA asked Philion about his work:

What is the mission of GMWC? The Greater Minnesota Worker Center is a coalition of low-wage workers, community and labor activists, academics, and progressive clergy and laity that was formed to support and organize low-wage workers to build power in order to improve working conditions and raise wages for workers as well as to improve the quality of life in Greater Minnesota.

Can you describe the project? Based in St. Cloud, MN, home to over 10,000 recently arrived immigrant and refugee workers, the Greater Minnesota Worker Center is modeled on the premise that to achieve meaningful social and political empowerment, low-wage workers need to organize within and outside the workplace to secure their full economic and social rights, a family-supporting wage, and a life with dignity.

GMWC holds meetings with immigrant workers on exploitation by meatpacking plants, restaurants, and temporary agencies. Beginning with individual cases (e.g., undocumented workers regaining stolen wages from a local restaurant, Somali workers pressuring a meatpacking plant to cancel its relationship with a disreputable temporary agency, and convenience store workers' fights for fair schedules, livable wages, and workplace safety), the GMWC strategizes how to win meaningful industry-wide reforms that translate into collective and systemic changes in economic power in Greater Minnesota, through actions to pressure decision-makers in the workplace and government.

What sociological knowledge and/or skills did you use for this project? The project uses qualitative and quantitative methods to map out how power is structured in Central Minnesota industries that make use of immigrant labor. We use organizing skills drawn from both literature on organizing new immigrants in the U.S. and participation in labor and immigrant-based organizations in Minnesota. In a nutshell, participation action research methods combined with public sociology.

How did you connect with the Greater Minnesota Worker Center? I was co-founder of the GMWC, and I have served as  its Board Co-Chair from 2013 to present.

Is there anything else you would like to share about this work? This is a speech I gave upon receiving the 2016 Minnesota Distinguished Sociologist Award for work I did as co-chair of the Greater Minnesota Worker Center. And here is a video from a protest that GMWC organized.