Justice at Work: Labor, Civil Rights, Immigration and the Law

Winter 2020
Spring 2020
Class Size: 30
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

Sara Ryan
labor studies/history, industrial relations
law, Spanish, bilingual/ELL education

What does “justice” mean in the context of the workplace? Freedom from discrimination and harassment? Fair compensation? The presence of a fair, equal system for resolving labor/management disputes? Or a system for punishing misdeeds? In this class we’ll examine the ways that workers and managers have understood “justice at work.” We will also study the social movements and conditions that led to the passage of important bodies of law, including labor, civil rights and immigration law -- specifically the National Labor Relations Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and laws affecting immigrant workers.

All of these laws define human rights but also reflect the shape of power in society. They can determine how workers and managers interact. Their texts were written by lawmakers, but, in another sense, they were written in the streets and workplaces in turbulent times. Class and racial biases exist in and are reproduced by the laws. We’ll study how the struggles at their roots shaped the laws and how they work in the 21st century workplace. Winter quarter's work focused on labor law; Spring's will focus on race, civil rights, and immigration. 

Students will become acquainted with the critiques developed by scholars of Critical Race Theory, which helps advance our thinking about power in the larger society and alternative possibilities for justice. We’ll examine recent dramatic changes in the world of work, and the laws that address the workplace, and consider whether new laws are needed to protect working people.

Be prepared for fun, active problem-solving and hard work. Students will learn to do some basic legal and historical research. You will get a sense of the real work of attorneys and courts, but also the work of community activists, union stewards, and managers.

Though there are no prerequisites, students with substantial work experience will find it useful, as will those with a basic background in 20th century American history. You should have the patience and persistence to read detailed histories, statutes, and legal cases. 

The class is designed as an 8-credit, half time program with a 12 or 16 credit internship option. Students who would like to work in internships will participate in all of the Saturday class activities and will work in their internship positions during the week. The class will be in hybrid format, meeting for six hours on Saturdays, with an additional 90 minute text-based online small group seminar, scheduled by group consensus.

Internships may be located in public agencies, in private sector workplaces, or with labor organizations or community organizations that address workplace concerns. They may focus on research, advocacy, or direct services. You must arrange your own internship, in collaboration with faculty in order to get a faculty signature to register for the 12 or 16 credit options. Please see Academic and Career Advising's Internship Coordinator for some suggestions or to prepare to discuss an employment-related internship with your current employer.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:

law, labor organizing, history, community organizing, public administration, management


Credits per quarter

Online learning:
  • Winter: Hybrid Online Learning - This offering delivers < 25% of its instruction online, rather than via face-to-face contact between you and your instructors.
  • Spring Complete Online Learning - This offering delivers all of its instruction online.
Internship Opportunities:

Twelve and 16-credit students must have arranged a 10 to 20-hour-per-week internship with a labor union, civil rights organization, immigration rights or immigrant organization, or human resources or labor relations office of a company or agency. The internship must be arranged in consultation with faculty before the quarter begins. You must have your internship arranged in order to get faculty permission to register for 12 or 16 credits. Faculty will provide interested students with some sources, but students must set up their own internships, with faculty approval.

Class Standing: Freshman–Senior
Class Size: 30

Scheduled for: Weekend

Final schedule and room assignments:

First meeting:

Saturday, April 4, 2020 - 10:00 am
SEM 2 A2105 - Workshop

Located in: Olympia

2020-02-24The fee for this program has been removed.
2019-11-13Description updated and 12-credit option added