Report

2022
Terri Gerstein and LiJia Gong. 6/13/2022. The role of local government in protecting workers’ rights. Economic Policy Institute and Labor and Worklife Program.Abstract
What this report finds: In recent years, cities, counties, and other localities have become innovators and leaders in standing up for working people. A number of localities have come to view protecting workers and improving their working conditions as part of their core municipal function. Some of the most noteworthy ways in which localities have taken action on behalf of working people in recent years include: 

 

  • establishing dedicated local labor standards offices that enforce workers’ rights laws 
  • establishing ongoing worker boards or councils 
  • passing local worker protection laws
  • actively enforcing local worker protection laws 
  • setting job quality standards for contractors with the municipal government 
  • establishing legal consequences for labor violations among applicants for municipal permits or licenses 
  • practicing high-road employment principles in relation to municipal employees
  • championing worker issues through public leadership 

While other reports have done an excellent job of exploring local action on specific issues like paid sick leave, living wages, and creation of worker boards, this report identifies and examines the broader trend of increased local action and analyzes the landscape of cities and other localities’ pro-worker actions in a comprehensive way.

Why it matters: Policies and enforcement that protect the rights of workers, ensure workers are able to meet their basic needs, and support workers’ efforts to organize are foundational to building healthy, thriving, and equitable communities. Working people in the United States today face multiple crisis situations that not only adversely impact their well-being, but also undermine the health and well-being of communities. Outdated labor laws are skewed against workers trying to form and join unions, and workers who try often face retaliation and other violations by employers. Public enforcement resources are inadequate, and workers are increasingly unable to bring their claims in court because of forced arbitration. In this context, cities and localities are vitally important and necessary actors in the effort to expand and enforce workers’ rights. They are close to their residents, and often are nimble and fast-moving in responding to emerging needs. A few cities (along with a few states) are also at the vanguard of innovating on policy and piloting new approaches to expanding and protecting workers’ rights. There is very meaningful work currently happening at the local level, with untapped potential for much more local action. 

2021
Terri Gerstein. 5/17/2021. How district attorneys and state attorneys general are fighting workplace abuses. epi.org. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Summary

Historically wage theft and other crimes against workers have not been prosecuted. Rather, civil enforcement by labor departments, along with private class-action lawsuits, have more commonly been the methods used to enforce crucial workplace protections like the right to be paid wages owed. However, responding to widespread, entrenched, and often egregious violations of workplace laws, an increasing number of district attorneys (DAs) and state attorneys general (AGs) have been bringing criminal prosecutions against law-breaking employers. This development is particularly important in light of limits in worker protection laws, underfunding of labor enforcement agencies that enforce those laws, and employers’ increasing use of forced arbitration clauses—which deprive workers of their right to take their employer to court, all of which have narrowed the options for workers whose rights have been violated.

  • State and local prosecutors have been bringing charges in a range of cases:
    • wage theft
    • misclassification (of workers as independent contractors) and payroll fraud
    • failure to pay unemployment insurance taxes
    • workers’ compensation insurance fraud
    • labor trafficking
    • egregious workplace safety and health violation
    • workplace sexual assault
    • witness tampering and retaliation
  • Criminal prosecution of violations of workers’ rights is appropriate and helps strengthen worker protection laws by establishing meaningful consequences for lawbreaking employers. Egregious violations of workers’ rights harm workers and communities, make it difficult for honest employers to compete, and deprive public coffers of money needed for critical safety net programs. Prosecutors engaged in workers’ rights issues should continue to build on this work, and more offices should join the effort.
  • State legislatures should strengthen statutes protecting workers, and ideally create funding mechanisms for pursuing criminal cases against lawbreakers.
  • Worker organizations and advocates should build relationships with DAs and the AG in their states to draw these untapped resources into the effort to protect workers’ rights.
2020
Terri Gerstein. 8/27/2020. Workers’ rights protection and enforcement by state attorneys general. Economic Policy Institute. Economic Policy Institute.Abstract

Key takeaways

  • State attorneys general (AGs) have been playing a key role in enforcing and protecting workers’ rights.
  • State AGs have dramatically increased their involvement in this area in recent years; this report documents these activities in detail. Here are just a few examples of the many ways state AGs are protecting workers’ rights:
    • Helping workers attain safer working conditions during the pandemic
    • Recovering stolen wages through civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions
    • Fighting misclassification of workers as independent contractors instead of employees
    • Cracking down on companies’ use of noncompete and no-poach agreements, which limit job mobility
    • Proposing and supporting legislation to safeguard workers’ rights
  • State AG offices engaged in workers’ rights issues should continue to build on the work they’re doing, and more state AGs should join the effort.
  • State legislatures should grant explicit authority to state attorneys general to enforce workplace rights laws and should ideally also fund positions for enforcement.
  • Worker organizations and advocates should seek to build relationships and work with their state AGs to safeguard workers’ rights in their states.
Protecting Workers through Publicity: Promoting Workplace Law Compliance through Strategic Communication
Terri Gerstein and Tanya Goldman. 6/30/2020. Protecting Workers through Publicity: Promoting Workplace Law Compliance through Strategic Communication. LWP and Clasp.Abstract

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program have released a new toolkit on strategic communication, a critical component of driving compliance with workplace laws. Communicating about agency enforcement, which is critical to informing the public about their rights and responsibilities, is one of the most effective ways to deter violations. These goals are more important than ever as labor enforcement agencies strive to protect workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

This resource addresses why agencies should use media and other means of strategic communications and offers suggestions on how to do so. In a moment of reduced state budgets and limited resources, media coverage and strategic communications are a cost-effective way for agencies to multiply their impact and inform workers of their rights.

Download report

Worker Power and Voice in the Pandemic Response
Benjamin. Sachs and Sharon Block. 6/2020. Worker Power and Voice in the Pandemic Response. Clean Slate for Worker Power. Publisher's Version
Jane Flanagan, Terri Gerstein, and PATRICIA SMITH. 5/15/2020. How States and Localities Can Protect Workplace Safety and Health . NELP and LWP.
Terri Gerstein and Jane Flanagan. 4/28/2020. State and local labor standards enforcement during COVID-19. Washington DC: Economic Policy Institute. Publisher's Version
Clean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Economy and Democracy clean slate for EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
BENJAMIN SACHS and Sharon Block. 1/23/2020. Clean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Economy and Democracy clean slate for EXECUTIVE SUMMARY. Clean Slate for Worker Power. Publisher's Version
Clean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Economy and Democracy
Benjamin I. Sachs and Sharon Block. 1/23/2020. Clean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Economy and Democracy. Clean Slate for Worker Power. Publisher's Version
Larry Beeferman. 1/14/2020. U.S. Investors’ Understanding of Workplace Policies and Practices and the Need to Change Them: Progress and Future Efforts. SSRN.com. Publisher's VersionAbstract
There have been increasing efforts by investors to spur disclosure of companies' workplace-related policies and practices. This paper provides a "case of first impression" assessment of the state of the field of such efforts among U.S. investors. Part I describes attributes of some of the important actors - investors and investor-related organizations - in the field, including their goals, their particular focus on workplace-related issues, and the standards/frameworks/criteria for what should be disclosed relevant to such an analysis. Part II offers a characterization of the success of efforts in the field to date and details challenges posed to making further progress. Part III provides suggestions and ideas about how those challenges might be might.
2019
Lisa XU and Mark Erlich. 12/15/2019. Economic Consequences of Misclassification in the State of Washington. Labor and Worklife Program. Cambridge: Harvard law School. Publisher's Version
Mark Erlich and Terri Gerstein. 6/25/2019. Confronting Misclassification and Payroll Fraud:A Survey of State Labor Standards Enforcement Agencies. Cambridge : Labor and Worklife, Harvard Law School. Publisher's Version
2018
Building Trust in a Changing World of Work: The Global Deal for Decent Work and Inclusive Growth Flagship Report 2018
International Labour Organization (ILO). 2018. Building Trust in a Changing World of Work: The Global Deal for Decent Work and Inclusive Growth Flagship Report 2018. Edited by Organisation Economic Co-operation Development for and (OECD). Global Deal Support Unit located in the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Dora Sari, LWP Fellow, was ont he ILO team that helped produce this report

 

2015
Richard B. Freeman. 2015. Workers Ownership and Profit-Sharing in a New Capitalist Model?. Swedish Trade Union Confederation. Publisher's Version
2008
Arnold M. Zack. 11/11/2008. A Potential Roadmap toward Workplace Fairness in China. Council on Foreign Relations. Publisher's Version
2005
Ph.D. Françoise Carré and Randall Wilson. 4/25/2005. The Social and Economic Costs of Employee Misclassification in the Maine Construction Industry . Cambridge, MA: Construction Policy Research Center Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School and Harvard School of Public Health. Publisher's VersionAbstract
You can call a construction worker by any other name , but they're still a construction worker, right? Not according to a recent study sponsored by Harvard Law School's Labor and Worklife Program. Construction workers, whose job duties remain unchanged, seem to be turning into "independent contractors," a label that's not only misleading but carries with it important worker compensation insurance and tax collection implications. The study, "The Social and Economic Costs of Employee Misclassification in Construction," conducted by Dr. Francoise Carre and Randall Wilson at UMass Boston's Center for Social Policy documents an alarming pattern of employee misclassification in both the Maine and Massachusetts construction industries between 2001-2003
2004
Françoise Carré and Randall Wilson. 12/17/2004. The Social and Economic Costs of Employee Misclassification in Construction. Cambridge, MA: Construction Policy Research Center and Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School and Harvard School of Public Health. Publisher's VersionAbstract
You can call a construction worker by any other name, but they're still a construction worker, right? Not according to a recent study sponsored by Harvard Law School's Labor and Worklife Program. Construction workers, whose job duties remain unchanged, seem to be turning into "independent contractors," a label that's not only misleading but carries with it important worker compensation insurance and tax collection implications. The study, "The Social and Economic Costs of Employee Misclassification in Construction," conducted by Dr. Francoise Carre and Randall Wilson at UMass Boston's Center for Social Policy documents an alarming pattern of employee misclassification in Massachusetts construction industry between 2001-2003.