History & Mission

The Labor Education and Research Center (LERC) at the University of Oregon was established in 1977 by an act of the Oregon Legislature. LERC’s founding was promoted by an alliance of unions, legislators, university faculty, labor relations professionals, and community leaders who believed that workers and unions in Oregon needed a specific program granting them access to the resources and expertise of the state’s higher education system. LERC’s mission is to:

  • PROVIDE direct, hands-on education, training, and consultation to workers and unions at the grassroots level.
  • ENCOURAGE creative and critical thinking that empowers working adults to participate meaningfully in workplace and community affairs.
  • CONDUCT applied research on vital social issues related to work, employment, and labor relations.
  • MAKE Oregon’s workplaces safer by providing educational programs and conducting research on occupational safety and health issues.
  • CONNECT the university to the broader community by making its resources more readily available to working Oregonians and labor organizations.
  • EXPAND public awareness of Oregon’s rich labor, working-class, and labor relations history.

LERC currently has a six-member faculty with strong roots in the union movement and an interdisciplinary range covering such areas as sociology, history, economics, industrial relations, education, and public health.

LERC has a thirty-member advisory board of statewide labor leaders who provide the program with support, guidance, and input.

Educational Programs

LERC conducts approximately 50-60 educational programs, conferences, and institutes annually for both local and regional audiences that serve approximately 2,000-2,500 rank-and-file union members, staff, and leaders. These programs include:

  • Non-credit education and skills training (“Leadership Schools”) throughout the state, culminating in a non-credit certificate in union leadership.
  • Conferences on important labor and workplace issues in campus and off-campus settings.
  • Multi-day residential institutes for union staff and rank-and-file leaders.
  • Occupational safety and health training.
  • Customized educational programs and classes tailored to the needs of individual unions and community organizations.

Research on Vital Work and Employment Issues

LERC faculty members are available to conduct applied research tailored to the specific needs of unions, policy makers, and community partners. Recent initiatives include research in the following subject areas:

  • Issues affecting the health care industry and health care workers.
  • Apprenticeship programs.
  • Ergonomics and workplace health and safety.
  • Ethical implications of applying human genome research in the workplace.
  • Privatization and contracting out.
  • Union election procedures and the right to organize.
  • Industry-specific occupational and labor analysis.
  • Social equity principles in sustainable business development.

Technical Assistance & Consultation

LERC’s technical assistance efforts feature intensive consultation and aim to help organizations achieve tangible results. Recent collaborations with union partners include:

  • Developing a communications structure to support membership participation and mobilization.
  • Staff development and mentoring programs.
  • Preparation for collective bargaining.
  • Creating strategies for recruiting new members.
  • Strategic planning and goal setting.

Public Service & Public Policy

LERC faculty provide technical assistance to legislators, community activists, and governmental agencies at the state, local, and federal level and frequently furnish background information on labor and employment issues to the news media. They also participate actively in professional associations related to labor education and their particular academic disciplines.


  • Books on labor history and employment policy.
  • Monograph on public sector labor law.
  • Academic journal scholarship on work, employment, occupational safety and health, collective bargaining, and labor-management relations.
  • Issue-oriented reports and commissioned studies.

Academic Contributions

  • Credit classes in history and political science
  • Internships that places students with unions, government, and other organizations dealing with work and employment issues.
  • Co-chairing the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics
  • Special programs and conferences
  • Collaborative research with other University departments and centers
  • Service on University committees and task forces