Employment and Jobs

Organizing Unemployed and Underemployed Workers

August 31, 2022  • Economic Opportunities Program & Neidi Dominguez

Photo of Neidi DominguezNeidi Dominguez, Executive Director, Unemployed Workers United

Neidi Domingeuz, executive director of the Unemployed Workers United (UWU), immigrated to the United States from Mexico at age nine. She was involved in organizing at a very early age, watching her mom organize day laborers and domestic workers before starting her own organizing with the Institute of Popular Education of Southern California. Neidi never stopped organizing and today leads the UWU, an organization focused on organizing with local grassroots organizations to engage unemployed and underemployed workers, and those facing precarious employment in building power to change their living conditions in their cities and the working conditions in their workplaces.

UWU’s approach is engaging and organizing unemployed and underemployed workers, a population Neidi notes has not been mobilized at scale since the 1930s. UWU approaches all of its work in a collaborative and additive fashion. “We are partnering with existing local organizations to add capacity to help grow their base. We want to add to the existing ecosystem in the South and create what makes sense for the work being done already, not just build without consultation and collaboration,” Neidi says.

UWU is anchored by five national organizations including People’s Action, United for Respect, Mijente, the National Black Worker Center, and Working Families Party. While the UWU works nationally, it focuses on the Southeast and Southwest. According to Neidi, “The South has experienced little to no at-scale investment by the philanthropic sector in the last several decades and unions and other large progressive institutions are almost nonexistent, but it is the region of the country where historically and currently we are seeing some of the most bold organizing for economic and racial justice.”

Organizing to Support Job Quality in the Digital Era

The digital era has created new challenges and opportunities for worker organizing. Unemployed Workers United has stepped into this space with experience and purpose. Neidi Dominguez says, “We also launched this project with a lot of intention and taking our learnings from the Bernie 2020 Presidential campaign, which many in our team had witnessed and were part of executing for the first time, a very effective way to scale digital and virtual organizing field operations that was run by thousands of volunteers and engaged millions of people.”

While the organization still does a lot of in-person organizing, one of the strengths it is bringing to the coalitions it supports is digital infrastructure. A key part of being able to effectively organize digitally is building email and text lists. The organization has a list of 160,000 people across the Southeast and Southwest. Neidi says of those on the list, “More than 40% of them self-identified as Black, and about 25% of them self-identified as Latinx, and the rest are unknown for race/ethnicity, but based on our modeling are likely to be people of color.”

These lists can then be used to mobilize and organize people to action. In Alabama, UWU worked with local and national partners to host several texting parties where volunteers sent 500,000 texts to community members asking them to help support workers fighting for a union at a warehouse facility in Bessemer, Alabama. This has resulted in an active list of about 7,000 residents in Alabama who support worker organizing.

Social media is another platform UWU uses to distribute information and organize. UWU has used Facebook townhalls, sometimes coupled with in-person events, to discuss and push for policy changes related to issues such as the rights of immigrant workers. UWU runs online campaigns across various social media platforms to help expand lists, increase social media followers, and build solidarity and collective purpose. UWU uses virtual spaces to conduct training sessions on workers’ rights and more. Social media, however, is not just a one-way street, as it offers organizations like UWU and their partners a way to identify issues and challenges workers are encountering.

Good data and communications are an essential part of a digital organizing strategy, and so is a base of volunteers. UWU has 700 active volunteers supporting its work. The organization reports it has reached six million people to date through person-to-person texting, including five million in the South.

All of this digital work, according to Neidi, is meant to help the worker advocacy and economic justice fields struggling to develop and use technological and digital infrastructure to leverage these platforms for power building. Neidi says the field needs “a new cadre of organizers for the future who know how to both have a one-on-one conversation with someone and also know how to use digital and tech tools like customer relationship management software to have a broader reach and look at data to help inform strategic targeting.”

As part of its work, UWU provides training, education, and access to digital and technological tools to local and state organizations in the South. Education and training may include workshops on workers’ rights or on navigating the unemployment insurance system. It also includes training local organizers on strategic campaigning, power mapping, and digital and distributed organizing. UWU also partners with direct service organizations and mutual aid networks to link workers to organizing efforts and connect them to resources such as food pantries, cash assistance, and rent and utilities assistance.

UWU believes in the power of collective bargaining and trade unions. Neidi says, “Trade unions have played a key role in our country to ensure that the most marginalized workers have a fair shot at having good quality jobs and lives. The mission of our work is to promote and support workers demanding better working conditions through collective action and supporting unionization efforts.” As a way to support this work, the UWU helps workers connect to organizers and resources to organize their workplace. It also directly lends its voice and resources to supporting unionization drives. UWU also partnered with the Los Angeles Labor Federation on a report and campaign to improve workplace safety at Amazon facilities.

As UWU looks to the future, the organization will be focused in part on ensuring that jobs created by infrastructure investments are not only good jobs, but that communities of color are the workers on those projects. For UWU, “a good quality job is one that a worker and their family can live on without having to choose between paying their rent, their bills, or their food. We also believe that no worker should have to work more than one full-time job to make ends meet and that a good quality job will also have a clear opportunity path for upward mobility that is equitable and just,” says Neidi.


Organizing Unemployed and Underemployed Workers: A Profile of @AspenJobQuality Fellow @neidid, Executive Director of @UWUnited_.

As the executive director of @UWUnited_, @AspenJobQuality Fellow @neidid helps organizations harness the power of digital infrastructure, activating thousands of coalition members through texts, emails, social media, and virtual events.

Unemployed Workers United @UWUnited_ engages and organizes unemployed and underemployed workers, a population that has not been mobilized at scale since the 1930s. Read more in this profile of Executive Director @neidid, an @AspenJobQuality Fellow.

“The South… is the region of the country where historically and currently we are seeing some of the most bold organizing for economic and racial justice.” #JobQuality Fellow @neidid, Executive Director @UWUnited_

“A good quality job is one that a worker and their family can live on without having to choose between paying their rent, their bills, or their food [with] a clear opportunity path for upward mobility that is equitable and just.” @neidid @UWUnited_

Learn more

Neidi Dominguez is a member of the Aspen Institute’s Job Quality Fellowship, Class of 2022-23. The Job Quality Fellowship is convened by the Economic Opportunities Program.

The Economic Opportunities Program advances strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, events, and other announcements.

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