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The academic literature on union-community engagement—labor activity often called social unionism—has grown steadily since about 1980, an expansion paralleling a similar evolution in union practices. This article examines one manifestation of social unionism in western New York: the labor-led Economic Development Group (EDG), which emerged in the late-1990s as a way for that region’s union leaders to jointly engage in regional economic development activities. Part I surveys the existing literature on labor-community engagement, with an emphasis on the U.S. experience at the metropolitan level. Part II traces the EDG’s origins and early development. Parts III, IV and V examine the EDG’s major initiatives: in labor relations, regional energy, and workforce development, the latter of which includes a neighborhood revitalization component. Part VI identifies some of the EDG’s current challenges and opportunities, and in the process highlights lessons of its experience. Part VII offers a summary and concluding thoughts, including suggestions for future research. A number of EDG projects appear to be on the leading edge of innovation with respect to regional development; thus, the case of the EDG warrants the attention of academics and practitioners, including policymakers interested in improving the wellbeing of the nation’s working families.


Suggested Citation
Whalen, C. J. (2009). Social unionism in western New York: The case of the Economic Development Group Retrieved [insert date] from Cornell University, ILR school site:

Required Publisher Statement
Copyright held by the author. A condensed version is forthcoming in Labor Studies Journal.