Clean Slate Project

Rebalancing Economic and Political Power:
A Clean Slate for the Future of Labor Law

Made possible by the generous support of the Ford Foundation

The Clean Slate Project is an initiative of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School that is building a policy agenda to reconstruct labor law in order to rebalance our economy and politics.  It is an 18-month project that involves leading academics, activists, advocates, labor leaders and practitioners and will culminate with a comprehensive set of actionable recommendations.

Project Background: Wages have been stagnating for decades. Income inequality is at its highest level in history and still growing.  The political and economic power of ordinary Americans is dwarfed by the massive influence of corporations.  The right to unionize has been eviscerated. Demagogues are seeking (sometimes successfully) to capitalize on these trends to advance their own goals to the further detriment of working people. In the face of these trends, how can ordinary Americans organize and mobilize for economic and political justice? And what does the law do to enable or impede their efforts?  The magnitude of the challenges requires more than tinkering around the edges of the existing legal frameworks.  It is critical that we bring new perspectives to answering these hard questions in order to build a policy agenda for legal reform that will restore balance to our economy and our politics.

 

The Clean Slate Project Process:  The Clean Slate Project brings together the leading practitioners, academics, labor leaders, advocates, activists, technologist, futurists and other thought leaders from across the country to work collaboratively on developing a policy agenda to solve the most pressing labor law reform challenges.

 

  • Over the course of 18 months, the Clean Slate Project will engage the Labor and Worklife Program’s extensive network of thought leaders to provide bold and new ideas to reform labor law. The Clean Slate Project starts from problems of economic and political inequality that we need to solve and will then identify and elaborate the legal mechanisms that can address those problems.  For inspiration, we will look to models from international labor law, from U.S. organizing of workers outside of the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Act, and to new ideas not yet tried. 
     
  • By early 2020, the Clean Slate Project will issue a final report on actionable recommendations to fundamentally reconstruct U.S. labor law. 
     
  • The Clean Slate Project is led by Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs, who bring a unique combination of the necessary expertise to take on this policy challenge.  Together, they have decades of experience in labor policy development.  Sachs and Block have taken leadership roles in exploring the most important of today’s labor policy issues, including the impact of automation on labor markets, growth of the gig economy, new forms of worker organizations and the future of the labor movement.

Sharon Block, Executive Director, Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School; Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School; former Member, National Labor Relations Board; Senior Counselor to Secretary of Labor Tom Perez; and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Labor.

Benjamin Sachs, Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry and Faculty Co-Director, Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School. Sachs is the Co-Founder and Editor in Chief of OnLabor.org, the country’s leading labor law blog.

 

Solution Sets: What follows are the five focus areas for the Clean Slate Project – five possible sets of solutions to the crisis of economic and political inequality. The goal of each focus area is to generate new approaches to the creation of countervailing power for working people.  We stress at the outset that each focus area, in addition to encompassing its specific challenges and opportunities, also must grapple with several overarching issues that are core to any successful labor law reform.  Primary among these is how, in building worker economic and political power, we can also address racial and gender subordination. Each focus area will also have to contend with the question of federalism: at which level(s) of government should these solutions be pursued. And each focus area must consider that any reform will occur in the context of a hostile federal judiciary.


I. Building Worker Power at the Sectoral, Value Chain, Enterprise and Worksite Level and Expanding Who Has the Right/Obligation To Bargain:

I.A. Levels of bargaining:  sectoral bargaining; mechanisms for tripartite bargaining; value-chain bargaining; the future of enterprise bargaining

I.B. Who bargains and what do we bargain over:  definition of employer; range of workers who have the right to bargain; “codetermination,” workers on corporate boards and worker ownership; scope of bargaining subjects.

II. Available Forms of Worker Organizations:

II.A. Organizations for worker power:  works councils; members-only unions; consumer, community and worker campaigns; political and advocacy organizations for workers; strengthening existing unions

II.B. Facilitating the formation and sustainability of powerful worker organizations:  models for generation of revenue and for sustaining institutions; facilitating the choice of worker organization (setting the default, mandating elections)

III. Establishing the Scope and Power of Collective Action: new pathways for building power; strike rights; defining the scope for boycotts, pickets and other forms of collective action; right to collective action in the nonunion workplace

IV. Building Worker Power Through Benefits Provision and Enforcement:

IV.A. Benefits: using worker organizations to administer portable benefits; adapting a Ghent-type system for the U.S.; facilitating use of worker owned/controlled capital

IV.B. Enforcement: creative redesign of enforcement regimes to build worker power; reopening access to the courts for workers; addressing employer intransigence

V. Empowering Labor Law Reform By Updating Other Legal Regimes: antitrust; corporate; immigration; constitutional; criminal; consumer; voting rights and campaign finance

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PROJECT ARCHIVE

Clean Slate Solution Sets in English
Clean Slate Solution Sets in Spanish

Clean Slate In the News

Under Trump, Labor Protections Stripped Away

September 3, 2018
Boston Globe Logo

By Katie Johnston
Boston Globe 

“This has been a terrible 18 months-plus for working people in this country,” said Celine McNicholas, director of labor law and policy at the Economic Policy Institute. “It’s an unprecedented attack on workers.”

Several worker advocacy groups have seized the moment to propose major overhauls to labor law, including the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, which is exploring policy proposals to reimagine collective bargaining by sector instead of by employer, and to give workers seats on corporate boards, among other recommendations. 

It’s not just a reaction to Trump, said Sharon Block, who runs the center with labor professor Benjamin Sachs, though she added he’s certainly making matters worse. 9/3/2018 Under Trump, labor protections stripped away “The little power that workers have, this administration seems to be bound and determined to diminish even more,” said Block, who served on the NLRB board and was a labor adviser to President Obama. “The time for tinkering around the edges has past. What we really need is fundamental change.”

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This Labor Day, A Clean Slate for Reform

September 3, 2018
OnLabor.org logo

 SHARON BLOCK AND BENJAMIN SACHS
OnLabor.org

The question on this Labor Day therefore must be how, in 2018, can we create a new labor movement, one that can unite the interests of a sufficient number of lower and middle income Americans so that they have the power to restore balance to our economy and politics.

So we need to rebuild labor law from a clean slate to meet the challenges of the new economy. To provide a blueprint for that kind of reform, we have launched a new project at Harvard Law School: Rebalancing Economic and Political Power: A Clean Slate for the Future of Labor Law.  This summer, we kicked off the Clean Slate project with a convening aimed at identifying the core elements of a successful 21st Century labor law.... Read more about This Labor Day, A Clean Slate for Reform

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A ‘Clean Slate’ for the future of labor law

August 1, 2018
Harvard Law Today logo

Harvard Labor and Worklife conference starts up a journey toward systemic reform, economic equality

By BRETT MILANO
Harvard law Today

Last month, Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program began an ambitious effort to fix a broken system of labor laws. The program, “Rebalancing Economic and Political Power: A Clean Slate for the Future of Labor Law,” began with a daylong seminar at Wasserstein Hall. It will continue with a series of followup meetings over the next eighteen months, with the goal of producing major recommendations to reform labor law.

Attendees came from across the country, including law professors, labor activists, and union and online organizers. Because Chatham House rules were invoked for the event, none of the panelists will be identified or quoted; Block explained that this allowed for a freer exchange of ideas.

Co-organizers Sharon Block, executive director of HLS’s Labor and Worklife Program, and Benjamin Sachs, Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry and faculty co-director of the Labor and Worklife Program, said that some significant work was begun.... Read more about A ‘Clean Slate’ for the future of labor law

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Clean Slate: Defining Problems Opening Remarks

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Sharon Block and Ben Sach give opening remarks, July 24, 2018

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