“Most Madisonians have probably never heard of Robert Christl, but he’s played a key role in the local labor organizing movement this year. As program director of Madison-based worker advocacy group Worker Justice Wisconsin, he oversaw efforts that helped housekeepers at Clarion Inn & Suites at Alliant Energy Center win a raise, and helped screen printers and seamstresses at Crushin’ It Apparel win a union.
The two campaigns mark a shift in strategy for the nonprofit, which has spent about two decades fighting wage theft and discrimination on behalf of individual workers. It’s also a shift for Christl, who spent years organizing his fellow University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student workers as a member of the Teaching Assistants’ Association, while earning a Ph.D. studying the anarchist labor unions of the Spanish Civil War era.
Since starting his current job in May, Christl still can’t believe what he sees in the private sector. In 2023, Christl hopes to counter that imbalance by helping workers organize cooperatives, unions or direct action within their workplaces, with a special focus on Hispanic immigrant workers. Though he’s keeping the details under wraps for now, he said WJW is looking to organize a couple industries they believe are rife with abuse.
‘Workers often feel like they have no power, and on an individual level, that is largely true,’ Christl said. But when workers come together, ‘it sort of inverts the relationship between employer and employees, and they have tremendous power and influence to make things better.'”
By Natalie Yahr for the Capital Times