Researcher at UMass Amherst Studies Living Wage Campaigns Across the Country

AMHERST, Mass. - Stephanie Luce, assistant professor at the Labor Relations and Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, says efforts to boost the minimum wage have been most successful at the state level on the East and West coasts, or when organized at a local level. These so-called "living wage" campaigns work best at a municipal or county level, Luce says, because organizers can target specific employers who have contracts or subsidies with local governments.

The "living wage" ordinances usually are adopted by city councils, Luce says, because unions, religious groups, and activists can bring pressure to bear on members to improve wages and benefits for workers in that locality. Currently there are 42 such laws on the books and efforts to organize double that number nationwide, Luce says. The first was adopted in Baltimore in 1994. In Massachusetts, Boston, Cambridge, Northampton, and Somerville have adopted "living wage" laws.

In addition to monitoring the various "living wage" campaigns around the country, Luce says she is also looking at whether labor unions are using these campaigns as organizing tools to boost their membership. Her research also examines the specific role central labor councils play in these efforts.

Luce joined the Labor Relations and Research Center this fall, and has been a research fellow at the Political Economy Research Institute that is affiliated with the UMass department of economics since 1998. She earned her doctorate in sociology in 1999, and a master''s degree in industrial relations in 1991, from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Luce earned a bachelor''s degree in economics from the University of California at Davis in 1988. Luce teaches courses on U.S. labor history and labor organizing, and research methods at the UMass labor center.