Worker Justice Wisconsin's History
The Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South-Central Wisconsin (ICWJ) began in 1999 and launched a study of actual workplace conditions in Dane County through the Latino Worker Project. The Latino Worker Project fact-finding delegation was a collaborative effort of faith community representatives, union leaders, workers, and local social service providers. The final published report, “Can’t Afford to Lose a Bad Job,” highlighted the difficulties and barriers these workers face.
One of the recommendations of the delegation was to establish a workers’ rights center to address the needs of low-wage and immigrant workers. Using resources and best practices from successful faith/labor initiatives around the country, ICWJ soon opened a worker center in the Villager Mall on South Park Street in Madison. The Workers’ Rights Center (WRC) became its own organization in 2007, a community center dedicated to educating and advocating for worker justice and empowering workers.
Meanwhile, ICWJ continued to grow as a coalition of congregations, unions and other community organizations centered on a commitment to the health and dignity of workers, as well as the rights to organize and collectively bargain. In 2011, ICWJ gained international attention for its key role in mobilizing a multi-faith community in opposition to Act 10.
In 2017, the boards of the WRC and ICWJ reviewed our separate models and decided that we needed to become a unified organization, centered around worker rights, organizing, and developing worker leadership. We merged to become Worker Justice Wisconsin in 2018.
Since then, the organization has gone through strategic planning to center all its programs around collective worker organizing and cooperative development. WJW empowers workers for collective action while mobilizing a coalition of faith and labor leaders to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. In the last couple years WJW has incubated a restaurant and a cleaning cooperative and is currently partnering with janitorial and food production workers to do outreach in their workplaces, identify emerging leaders, and encourage collective action for systemic change. We will officially launch our worker membership program in February 2022 with the clear mandate to empower Latinx and immigrant workers to lead WJW’s organizing efforts well into the future.