Convening July 24, 2018

Rebalancing Economic and Political Power: 

A Clean Slate for the Future of Labor Law 

Opening Conference: What Problems Should We Be Solving For? 

Made possible by the generous support of the Ford Foundation 

DATE & TIME Tuesday July 24, 2018, 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. 
LOCATION Harvard Law School, Wasserstein Hall, 2036 Milstein West A 
1585 Mass Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138 

    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. 

    Rationale behind this opening conference: A key element of this opening conference is to get input and recommendations from conference participants on the topics to be discussed at future convenings and which draw from the above identified challenges.  Toward that end, opening conference participants will be asked to reflect throughout the conference about the best way to organize the project to create policy "pathways to solutions" for the problems discussed.  

    Getting there:

    Public Transportation:  The conference venue is in a 10-minute  walking distance from Harvard Square, a central hub for buses and subways.
    Parking:  For those in need of parking, the closest Harvard Parking garage is located at 10 Everett Street and parking passes can be purchased online here.

    8:30am‑9:00am: Registration and Breakfast 
    9:00am‑9:10am:  Welcome 
    Sharon Block, Executive Director, Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School 
    9:10am‑9:30am: Opening/Vision for the Project: Addressing the Big Problem of Economic and Political Disempowerment of Workers  
    Benjamin Sachs, Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry and Faculty Co-Director, Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School 

    Panel One: Transformation of Work
    The theme of this panel is an exploration of how work has changed in ways that make it more difficult for workers to empower themselves - at work and in the broader economy. We will focus on legal deficiencies, including the ways in which existing laws don’t “fit” new forms of work relationships. And we will focus on how, in the absence of suitable legal regulation, these new forms of work relationships make workers vulnerable to exploitation. Some of the topics we hope to cover include misclassification; “fissuring,” including franchising, subcontracting and use of temp workers; obstacles to competition in the labor markets, including corporate concentration; and the failure of labor standards enforcement in the face of employer intransigence. 

    Moderator: Christine L. Owens, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project 

    • Nicole G. Berner, General Counsel, Service Employees International Union 
    • Mike Manley, Staff Attorney, International Brotherhood of Teamsters [add link to Mike’s bio] 
    • Suresh Naidu, Associate Professor of International and Public Affairs and Economics, Columbia University 
    • Terri Gerstein, Fellow, Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program and Open Society Foundations  
    10:45am‑11:00am Break

    Panel Two:  Constraints on the Labor Movement and Worker Organizations 
    The theme of this panel is an exploration of how the National Labor Relations Act constrains the ability of unions and worker organizations to effectively organize workers and build strong institutions.  We will explore: how the limitations on the scope of organizing to the firm level frustrates unions’ ability to organize at scale and to match the ways that employers structure their management of work; whether limitations on the topics of bargaining to wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment leave workers without any influence over the most important issues that control their economic future; and how limitations on unions’ revenue models weaken the ability of unions to grow strong organizations.  Putting these constraints together, the panel will discuss how the NLRA is keeping workers out of playing a meaningful role in shaping the economy to benefit workers broadly.

    Moderator:  Catherine Fisk, Barbara Nachtrieb Armstrong Professor of Law, Berkeley Law 

    • Jody Calemine, Chief of Staff, Communications Workers of America
    • Kate Andrias, Assistant Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School
    • David Rolf, President Local 775, Service Employees International Union
    12:15pm‑12:30pm  Break 

    Lunch Panel: Problems Have Consequences: A View from the Frontlines 
    This panel will take a deeper dive into the consequences for workers’ lives of the weaknesses in labor law to provide effective protection for collective action.  We will explore the impact of: regional obstacles to bargaining and lower labor standards in the South; deficiencies in the social safety net for precarious workers and challenges posed by working in the gig economy.

    Moderator:  Michelle Miller, Co-Founder and Co-Director,  

    • Alex Rosenblat, Technology Ethnographer, Data & Society 
    • Lindsey D. Cameron, PhD Candidate, University of Michigan, Ross School of Business and Pre-Doctoral Fellow, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
    • Alexandra Suh, Executive Director, KIWA
    • José Garza, Executive Director, Workers Defense Project

    Panel Three: Challenges to Collective Action and Structural Fairness Problems 
    The theme of this panel is to look at the relationship between diminished worker power and other aspects of society that are undermining social cohesion and basic fairness in our country.  The challenges facing workers are not limited to what happens in the relationship between employers and employees – the challenges extend throughout our social, political and civic institutions.  The panel will explore topics including the relationship between the challenges for worker collective action and: the unresponsiveness of our political system to the interests of workers; the persistence of greater inequality for women and people of color; precariousness of workers outside of all systems of protection, like immigrants, domestic workers and agricultural workers; and, in Justice Kagan’s words in her Janus dissent, “the weaponization of the First Amendment”.   

    Moderator:  Jake Rosenfeld, Associate Professor of Sociology, Washington University in St. Louis 

    • K. Sabeel Rahman, Associate Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School 
    • Lola Smallwood Cuevas, Project Director, UCLA Labor Center  
    • Saket Soni, Executive Director, National Guest Workers Alliance and New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice
    • Charlotte Garden, Co-Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development and Associate Professor of Law, Seattle University School of Law 

    Break and Afternoon Refreshment 


    Breakout Groups: Pathways to Solutions 


    • Charlotte Garden, Associate Professor of Law, Seattle University School of Law 
    • Richard Griffin, Of Counsel,  Bredhoff & Kaiser
    • Rajesh Nayak, Deputy Executive Director, National Employment Law Project 
    • Lynn Rhinehart, General Counsel, AFL-CIO 
    • Judith A. Scott, Partner, James & Hoffman, P.C. 
    • David Seligman, Attorney, Towards Justice 
    • Erica Smiley, Organizing Director, Jobs With Justice
    • Jenny Lau, Director of Programs and Outreach, Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School  

    Recommended Readings:   

    Twitter: @LWPHarvard @OnLaborBlog


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