Labor Studies Program

Students in Labor Studies class

What Is Labor Studies?

Labor Studies is an interdisciplinary program that examines work, the workplace, workers, and their organizations. Drawing on the fields of economics, history, political science, sociology and other disciplines, courses in Labor Studies deal with such questions as:

  • What roles do unions play in affecting the well-being of workers and of society more generally? How and why have those roles changed over the course of economic development in the United States and elsewhere?
  • How do changes in the global economy affect work and workers?
  • In the history of the United States and other countries, how have workers’ rights changed over time? How have broad political and economic developments affected those rights?
  • What opportunities and challenges do workers face as racial, gender, and ethnic diversity changes in the labor force?
  • What are effective methods of worker organizing and of collective bargaining by unions? How are organizing and the practices of unions affected by changes in the larger society?

By focusing on these sorts of questions, the UMass Boston Labor Studies Program prepares students to provide critical analysis of historical controversies and to think strategically about social, political, and economic change. The program provides students with a strong foundations for a variety of occupations, and also prepares students to be active participants in their own labor and community organizations. Indeed, students, faculty, and staff in Labor Studies are often members of and active participants in the organized labor movement and related social justice organizations.

What Are the Study Options?

Labor Studies Major and Labor Studies Minor

The Labor Studies Program offers a BA for students who major in the program and also a minor for students majoring in another program at UMass Boston. While both the major and the minor require students to take a set of courses offered by the Labor Studies Program, both also allow students to fill out their program with related courses in various College of Liberal Arts departments.

Details of the requirements for the major and minor are at:

Students who are neither majoring nor minoring in labor studies are of course welcome to take individual courses in the program. Also, the program offers a First Year Seminar and an Intermediate Seminar.

Students majoring or minoring in labor studies (or simply taking courses in the program) will find that it provides a useful foundation for employment in a variety of occupations, including, for example:

  • Leadership, administrative, and research positions in labor unions and other social justice organizations
  • Legal work, including but not only as lawyers
  • Positions in government at state, local, and national levels
  • Positions in non-government organizations (NGOs), working on issues from the neighborhood to the international level
  • Teaching and related educational work at various levels.

As a liberal arts program, the Labor Studies Program develops students’ analytic skills presentation capacities, and abilities for group work, all of which are foundations for a great variety of interesting occupations.  Moreover, the program provides a solid foundation for post-graduate study in MA and PhD labor programs or related social science fields. And, regardless of one’s occupation, the Labor Studies Program will prepare students to take part more effectively in labor organizations, community groups, and other social justice organizations.

Labor Leadership Certificate

The Professional Certificate in Labor Leadership is a valuable credential for emerging leaders in the labor movement. The certificate program fosters group learning across different unions, communities, and economic sectors. Students may enroll in the certificate program as either a pre-baccalaureate or post-baccalaureate option.

To complete the certificate in labor studies, students must take six labor studies courses. Courses are regularly offered in the early evening, which allows people with full-time employment to engage in the program.

As with the BA and minor in labor studies, the certificate program equips graduates for work in unions, labor organizations, community-based organizations, and government and public service. The certificate program also prepares students for further education in these fields; in particular, many certificate students who have not already obtained a BA, go on to do so.

Especially important to many participants, the certificate provides excellent career advancement opportunities for rank-and-file union members who aspire to leadership positions, for current union staff seeking greater skills and credentials for career advancement, and for younger workers and activists seeking to become more engaged in organized labor.

Labor Leadership Certificate Learning Goals

Students who have completed the certificate program should have developed a broad set of competencies. They should, for example, be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the history of work and the labor movement, and draw from that history in analyzing contemporary opportunities and challenges facing working people and the labor movement
  • Explain the role of labor and workers’ organizations in different nations, as well as the relative pros and cons of different organizational structures
  • Understand different models of organizing and collective bargaining, and explain their strengths and weaknesses
  • Explain the changing nature of work in the global economy and describe the emerging responses from organized labor internationally
  • Demonstrate the ability to utilize research and technological tools to analyze and participate in the contemporary labor movement


For more information on the Labor Studies Program, contact the Labor Resource Center: 
phone: 617.287.7267