Documenting Unregulated Work: A Survey of Workplace Violations in New York City

Awarded Scholars:
Annette Bernhardt, National Employment Law Project
Nikolas Theodore, University of Illinois, Chicago
Project Date:
Jun 2006
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Future of Work

Supplemental Award: $35,000, March 2008

Anecdotal evidence suggests that workplace violations are widespread in America today. Stories of locked exits, compulsory overtime, intimidation of employees looking to unionize, and other clear violations of labor and employment law are in the news frequently. But it is still difficult to estimate how severe this problem is since there are no systematic data on the prevalence of workplace violations. 

In earlier work, Annette Bernhardt worked with collaborators in New York and Chicago to map out the landscape of unregulated work, documenting which industries and jobs are affected, as well as the types of employers, workers, and intermediaries involved. Now, Bernhardt will collaborate with Douglas Heckathorn, Ruth Milkman and Nik Theodore to administer a survey to a representative group of front-line workers in low-wage industries. In order to ensure the sample is representative, the investigators will use a statistical method developed by Heckathorn, which uses chain referrals and information about the size of people’s social networks to obtain a sample that is theoretically independent of its non-random starting points. The survey will show the investigators the prevalence of workplace violations and how they are correlated with demographic factors of workers (such as age, gender, or legal status) or with factors specific to an industry.


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