June 24, 2017

The Road Ahead for Worker Justice: Where to Lean In, Pull Up, Push Back and Pivot

For many years, Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) has held a yearly policy briefing to engage its members on specific policy issues that affect middle and low-income workers. In a fundamentally shifting political and power map, this year’s policy briefing updated members with our current understanding of the major forces and players that impact worker justice. FJE members engaged in strategic conversations about the decline of organized labor, economic discrimination based on migration status and gender, the future of work, emerging state and local policy and advocacy campaigns, and how to leverage and build power through movement building, cross-issue collaborations, litigation strategies, and community organizing.

The Road Ahead for Worker Justice banner

Click here for the agenda, slides, and bios of each of the speakers.

Tefere Gebre of the AFL-CIO, Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute, Sarita Gupta of Jobs with Justice, and Michelle Miller of Coworker.org set the stage by sharing their ideas and provocations about the new landscape. A key takeaway from their talks were that grassroots campaigns at the state and local level may be winnable to protect workers and ensure benefits as many states and municipalities looks to separate themselves from Federal policies and organizing at the local level has shifted power for successful policy advocacy. Michelle Miller introduced the concept of “data capitalism” describing how workers contribute to important data collection that employers are using for various consumer products. These contributions can be used as leverage for collective bargaining agreements and other worker protections as we rethink how data is shared, who owns it, and how to leverage it to shift power.

Sarita Gupta speaking at a podium beneath a presentation titled "Expanding Collective Bargaining."Following these provocations, the first day had two phenomenal panels on strategies for holding corporations accountable through proactive campaigns against the financial industry to reinvest in cities. With examples from Minnesota, Chicago and the national OUR Walmart campaigns, NFG Member Anna Lefer Kuhn of the Arca Foundation led a discussion about how labor and community coalitions are using a corporate power analysis to drive their economic and racial justice agendas. This was followed by a continued state-by-state analysis of local worker justice campaigns that are on the move. Panelist Peggy Shorey of the AFL-CIO presented a political analysis of partisan control in each state, and layered upon the map a few policy campaigns that are currently moving to share its potential for success. Examples from state policies for paid sick days, parental leave, and higher minimum wages were shared by Wendy Chun Hoon of Family Values at Work and Cathy Ruckelhaus of the National Employment Law Project (NELP).

The second day was dedicated to deeper strategy conversations and began with a framework for understanding how to build the infrastructure for successful campaigns and progressive governance by Dr. Manuel Pastor of the University of Southern California’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity. The program's Changing States Framework provides three dimensions that route pathways to progressive governance: the demographic, economic, political and geographic conditions; the arenas through which social change efforts can be waged, implemented and protected; and the capacities for change that describe the elements that shape, build and shift power for change efforts. Following this framework discussion, Haeyoung Yoon of NELP led a panel describing the recent efforts by immigrant rights advocates, grassroots groups and attorneys to stop the federal government’s travel ban policy and the upsurge in detentions and deportations of immigrants. 

Aditi Vaidya speaking with a microphone in front of a white board.

Following this example from the immigrant rights movement, FJE Co-chair Aditi Vaidya of the Solidago Foundation and See Forward Fund, and Sharon Block of The Labor and Worklife Program ;at Harvard Law School led the group in a facilitation discussion and break out to institutional strategies and pivots given the potential policy shifts from the Federal Administration. We rounded out the day with a panel sharing our evolving resistance strategies through litigation, organizing and shaping a new narrative with Deepak Gupta of Gupta Wessler PLLC, Jon Liss of New Virginia Majority and Alan Jenkins of The Opportunity Agenda

Participants left the policy briefing energized and ready for the road ahead! FJE will be using the strategies and discussion notes to shape FJE conversations and programming for the rest of the year. You can find more information from the policy briefing here.