Cover Image

Larger ImageView Larger

Precarious Claims

The Promise and Failure of Workplace Protections in the United States

Shannon Gleeson (Author)

Available worldwide through a free download at

Paperback, 190 pages
ISBN: 9780520288782
September 2016
$34.95, £27.00
Other Formats Available:
A free ebook version of this title is available through Luminos, University of California Press’s Open Access publishing program for monographs. Visit to learn more.

Precarious Claims tells the human story behind the bureaucratic process of fighting for justice in the U.S. workplace. The global economy has fueled vast concentrations of wealth that have driven a demand for cheap and flexible labor. Workplace violations such as wage theft, unsafe work environments, and discrimination are widespread in low-wage industries such as retail, restaurants, hospitality, and domestic work, where jobs are often held by immigrants and other vulnerable workers. How and why do these workers, despite enormous barriers, come forward to seek justice, and what happens once they do? Based on extensive fieldwork in Northern California, Gleeson investigates the array of gatekeepers with whom workers must negotiate in the labor standards enforcement bureaucracy and, ultimately, the limited reach of formal legal protections. The author also tracks how workplace injustices—and the arduous process of contesting them—carry long-term effects on their everyday lives. Workers sometimes win, but their chances are precarious at best.

1. Introduction
2. Inequality and Power at Work
3. The Landscape and Logics of Worker Protections
4. Navigating Bureaucracies
5. The Aftermath of Legal Mobilization
6. Conclusion

Shannon Gleeson is Associate Professor of Labor Relations, Law, and History at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University.
"This book provides a unique perspective on administrative law and adjudication in the field of employment protection. It allows the reader to experience the difficulties in rights adjudication from the perspective of immigrant workers who attempt to navigate the administrative systems that are charged with conferring rights. Gleeson takes the reader through an explanation of the system as it is supposed to work and the system as it actually works, and asks the questions that lawyers must learn to ask when they think about whether rights in the abstract can translate to rights on the ground."—Leticia Saucedo, Professor of Law, University of California Davis
"Gleeson presents a unique view into the system and bureaucracy that workers have to navigate in order to make any claims when their rights are violated at work. Using surveys and in-depth interviews with workers, community-based support organizations, and advocacy groups, combined with participant observation, Gleeson shows that the path to justice for many workers is often experienced as long, challenging, and inconclusive."—Hector R. Cordero-Guzman, School of Public and International Affairs, Baruch College of the City University of New York

"This exceptional book examines how immigrant workers understand and mobilize their rights through a fractured and complex administrative bureaucracy.  Drawing on extensive observations and interviews with immigrant workers, Gleeson masterfully demonstrates how institutional inequality weakens employment rights through workplace power imbalances, bureaucratic procedures for claiming rights, and broader shifts toward precarious work in the global economy.  A must read for those interested in how law and society interact in the struggle for justice among immigrant workers."—Catherine Albiston, Professor of Law and Sociology, University of California Berkeley


Related Titles

Join UC Press

Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more