Milkman at the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, February 2006
|Born||December 18, 1954|
|Alma mater||University of California, Berkeley|
|Thesis||The Reproduction of Job Segregation by Sex: A Study of the Changing Sexual Division of Labor in the Auto and Electrical Manufacturing Industries in the 1940s (1981)|
|Doctoral advisor||Michael Burawoy,|
|Other academic advisors||David Brody, Michael Paul Rogin|
|Sub-discipline||Labor, Women's Studies, Immigration, Social Movements|
|Institutions||Graduate Center, CUNY, University of California, Los Angeles|
Ruth Milkman (born December 18, 1954) is an American sociologist of labor, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center, CUNY and the director of research at CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies.
Milkman's grandparents emigrated to the United States around 1910, and the family's last name was bestowed on them by an immigration official at Ellis Island. While both of Milkman's parents were born and raised in Brooklyn, and eventually attended Brooklyn College, Milkman was raised in Annapolis, Maryland where her father was an instructor at the United States Naval Academy. Milkman attributes her interest in labor to an incident in her childhood, where, when shopping with her mother in New York City, the two encountered an International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union picket line, which her mother refused to cross. Milkman obtained a bachelor's degree in 1975 from Brown University, where created her own major with an emphasis in women's studies. She was awarded a Master of Arts in sociology in 1977 and a Ph.D. in sociology in 1981, both from the University of California, Berkeley. Milkman was drawn to Berkeley because of the left-wing political activity of the 1960s that had taken place there. While at Berkeley, Milkman was an editor of Socialist Review, which later became Radical Society.
In 1981, Milkman was appointed an assistant professor, then associate professor, of sociology at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. In 1986, she was a visiting lecturer in American labor history at the University of Warwick in Coventry, United Kingdom, a visiting professor at the University of São Paulo in São Paulo, Brazil in 1990, a visiting research scholar at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia in 1991, and a visiting research associate at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris in 1993. She won an appointment as an associate professor at UCLA in 1988, where she became a full professor of sociology.
She was appointed director of the UCLA Institute of Industrial Relations in 2001. From 2001 to 2004, Milkman also was director of the University of California Institute for Labor and Employment prior to its restructuring as a research fund. In 2009, Milkman returned to the CUNY Graduate Center, and took up her present position of Research Director at the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.
Milkman's research focus is on the sociology of work. She has a strong interest in the American labor movement and labor history. She has also published extensively on low-wage workers and the sociology of gender in the U.S. Milkman writes from a "new labor history" perspective.
One of Milkman's earliest published works, Women, Work and Protest: A Century of U.S. Women's Labor History, was widely praised for its cross-disciplinary focus and for highlighting the important role women played in the American labor movement. The book was cited for being "rich in the variety of detailed case material offered in exploring the experiences of women employed in many occupations and industries around the country. Also included are two excellent chapters on the role of on women's auxiliaries in strike initiatives of male unions." It is now considered a "classic work" in the field of labor studies. Her second major work, Farewell to the Factory: Autoworkers in the Late Twentieth Century, questioned the common assumption that technological changes are almost always negative for skilled and unskilled blue-collar workers, and was well-reviewed within the industrial relations and labor history academic communities.
In 2004, Milkman co-edited Rebuilding Labor: Organizing and Organizers in the New Union Movement with Kim Voss. The book was highly influential within the American labor movement for its empirical nature and focus. As one reviewer noted, "Rebuilding Labor breaks new ground in providing rich empirical material and careful analysis for understanding the dynamics of contemporary labor organizing. The book as a whole is a very persuasive demonstration of the crucial value of systematic empirical research for the labor movement." Labor union activists pointed to the chapters by Bronfenbrenner and Hickey, DiNardo and Lee, Sharpe, Penney and Lopez as important in improving organizing practices. The chapter by Daisy Rooks on the nature and culture of organizing work has also generated much discussion.
In 2006, Milkman released L.A. Story, a case study of four organizing campaigns in Los Angeles, California, which drew some remarkable conclusions. First, Milkman argues that emergence of relatively innovative unions such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), UNITE HERE and the United Food and Commercial Workers from the conservative AFL-CIO is as noteworthy as the creation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1935. Second, Milkman's analysis of four SEIU Los Angeles-area organizing campaigns concludes that the most effective organizing strategy is a top-down one. Milkman doesn't discount extensive worker involvement, but argues that it is less important than other studies have found. Third, Milkman argues that the primary factor in the failure of union organizing campaigns is lack of resources (money and staff) rather than employer opposition, legal factors or the failure to use or improper implementation of good organizing tactics.
L.A. Story elicited debate in the academic community and labor movement for two reasons. First, Milkman's conclusion about the top-down nature of effective union organizing flies in the face of the "new labor history", which argues that workers should not only be the focus of academic research but in fact are the most important facet of the labor movement. In some ways, Milkman's conclusions are reminiscent of the institutionalist and Hegelian historicist perspective of older labor theorists such as Selig Perlman, Philip Taft and John R. Commons. Milkman's findings also contradict to a significant degree the conclusions of other scholars such as Bronfenbrenner and Juravich, who find that greater levels of worker involvement in union organizing can be equated with a higher degree of union success. For labor activists, Milkman's book is controversial because it seems to suggest that union democracy is not an important factor in either union organizing success or in the revitalization of the labor movement.
Milkman co-authored a 2009 study of low-wage workers in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago which found that these laborers are routinely denied overtime pay and often illegally paid less than the minimum wage.
Milkman has received a number of honors in her career.
She has served on the editorial board for a number of scholarly journals, including Feminist Studies, Politics and Society, the American Journal of Sociology, Gender and Society, International Labor and Working-Class History, Contemporary Sociology, the British Journal of Industrial Relations, Industrial Relations and Work and Occupations.
Her book, Gender at Work: The Dynamics of Job Segregation by Sex during World War II, won the 1987 Joan Kelly Memorial Prize in Women's History from the American Historical Association (AHA). The Joan Kelly Memorial Prize draws more submissions than most other AHA competitions, with an estimated 45 to 70 books competing in any given year.