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A New Social Contract for Workers

We need to envision a new social contract that puts people and our planet first, one that emerges from community, worker and social-movement driven solutions promising a more equitable and liberated future for all. We can, and must, fight for and build this future together.

The New Social Contract project creates dialogue across the country about how to build this new vision. It poses the question: what would our values look like in practice if our whole society were built around them? In this report, we focus on a new social contract for workers and the jobs they take up every day. Workers and their families must be at the center of any new social contract if we are to build a resilient democracy and a just economy.

Our last social contract during the New Deal era was a step forward for the human rights of workers. But it fell short of guaranteeing decent jobs for all. It also carved out the mostly Black and brown female domestic workers and Black and brown farmworkers from its new labor laws and other protections. And Black and brown workers faced pervasive discrimination generally locking them out of higher paid industries and some of the bigger unions throughout parts of the last century. Despite Black workers creating unions of their own and the biggest unions reversing course and embracing inclusivity and civil rights powerfully by the latter half of the century, for much of the 20th century our social contract divided workers along lines of race and gender. This enabled some workers to more effectively negotiate for better conditions and left others with little support for taking collective action to improve their working lives.

As capital has globalized, employers have exploited divisions among workers along with the threat of joblessness to erode working conditions in the United States and across the globe. As a result, most US families today are living paycheck to paycheck in a constant state of economic and social insecurity.1 No racial or geographic demographic has been immune from this economic injustice, but the long history of structural racism has ensured that communities of color have been hardest hit.

In this way our 20th century social contract has unraveled. But working people, through their social movements and organizations—unions, networks, worker centers and community groups to name just a few—are developing new solutions. Many of these ideas have been tested at smaller scale, and all of them offer a dra-matically different future for working families. They express a faith in both human rights and democracy in the workplace, which translates into economic and public policy that guarantees decent jobs for all and affords workers the power and dignity to shape the terms and conditions of their work.

To begin to build a new social contract for workers, our movements are calling for the following bold new public policies:

  • The Right to Collective Action at Scale: Sectoral Bargaining—By reinventing our labor law system so that workers are not forced to bargain company-by-company, but instead can negotiate fair work conditions across a whole sector and up supply chains, we can restore workers’ bargaining power at scale;
  • Freedom from Arbitrary Job Loss: “Just Cause” Employment”—We can protect workers from being abruptly left with bills due and no paycheck by adopting “just cause” employment protections that require employers to give a good reason, fair notice and severance pay before a worker can be left without a job;
  • The Human Right to a Decent Job: A Federal Job Guarantee—With a federal job guarantee we can end structural unemployment and ensure that every person in America has access to a decent job;
  • Democracy at Work: The Cooperative Advantage—We can democratize our econ-omy and ensure workers receive a fair share of economic gains by promoting the growth of worker cooperatives that enable workers to be owners of their workplaces; and
  • Universal Guarantees to Basic Needs: Medicare for All and Universal Family Care—We can free workers from inadequate employer-based benefits by creating new universal social support systems, beginning with health insurance through Medicare for All and Universal Family Care to meet their caregiving needs.

In addition to calling for these five transformational policies, workers are urging action on a broader agenda of other badly needed labor reforms. As detailed below, such reforms can pave the way for more fundamental change by responding to abusive policies and removing obstacles workers face today in their push for justice.


In addition to calling for these five transformational policies, workers are urging action on a broader agenda of other badly needed labor reforms.

Too many of our elected leaders are blocking serious dialogue about these alternatives. Many are scapegoating Black and brown families, especially those who are new immigrants, for increased economic injustice or blaming globalization, automation, and other economic forces. In reality, these injustices are the results of public policy decisions. Looking ahead to the 2020 election, we are demanding more from our leaders who should be fighting for us.

Progressive Coalition Demands 2020 Candidates Take Bold Action to Empower Workers

Media inquiries: Amy Lebowitz, amy.lebowitz@berlinrosen.com, (646) 200-5322

‘New Social Contract for Workers’ Outlines Comprehensive Policy Agenda to Address Crisis of Economic, Racial Inequality

MANCHESTER, NH—A coalition of grassroots and worker rights organizations today released a new national report, The New Social Contract for Workers, calling on elected leaders and candidates to embrace a slate of new public policies to promote workplace democracy and human rights for America’s workers.

Despite a decade of economic growth, most U.S. workers are living paycheck to paycheck. Nearly half of Black and brown workers struggle on less than $15 an hour, while more than half of low-wage workers routinely suffer wage theft or other legal violations. The New Social Contract for Workers calls for re-envisioning our system of labor protections to empower workers and address the extreme racial inequality that characterizes our jobs and workplaces.

The coalition releasing the report includes the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, the National Employment Law Project Action Fund, the Rights & Democracy Institute, the People’s Action Institute, Jobs With Justice, the Center for Popular Democracy, and Caring Across Generations.

The report identifies five bold reforms that the groups argue can provide the foundation for a new social contract for workers: (1) reforming our labor law system to allow “sectoral bargaining” across industries and up supply chains; (2) adopting “just cause” employment to protect workers from arbitrary and abrupt job loss; (3) creating a right to a decent job with a “federal job guarantee”; (4) promoting worker cooperatives to democratize our economy; and (5) new universal guarantees to basic needs such as Medicare for All and Universal Family Care.

In addition to calling for these five transformational policies, the worker groups are urging action on a broader agenda of other badly needed labor reforms. The report catalogs reforms across 13 key areas of worker policy ranging from defending immigrant workers from attacks, to protections for online platform workers, to new worker data privacy and algorithmic accountability standards.

Several of the policies called for, including sectoral bargaining, have started to gain traction with 2020 presidential candidates, some of whom have released bold agendas for protecting workers. But a debate over the need to dramatically reshape our social contract to empower workers in our economy has not yet received high visibility among the more than 20 candidates running for president.

“A New Social Contract is central to our long-term vision to create a future that puts us on a path to creating just, healthy, and thriving communities for everyone. How do we do that? By focusing on bold, community-led solutions that reshape our economy and public policies to put our people and our planet before everything else. Along with Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, a New Social Contract for Workers is the type of bold solution we need to start moving immediately at the local, state, and federal levels,” says James Haslam, executive director of the Rights & Democracy Institute and board member of People’s Action Institute.

“Any presidential candidate who is serious about tackling the crisis of racial and economic inequality in America needs to have a bold agenda to empower workers at the center of their economic plan. More and more of the 2020 candidates are recognizing this, and each and every one of them should be backing a New Social Contract for Workers,” said Paul Sonn, director of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund (NELP Action).

“By putting the rights, needs and power of workers at the center of a new social contract, we can build a possible future where democracy is vibrant, our economy is just, racial and gender oppression is dismantled, and all our neighborhoods thrive. This is why our coalition came together to launch this New Social Contract for Workers report and conversation,” said Cathy Albisa, executive director of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI).

“Our economic system is rigged against working people, the vast majority of whom are unable to exercise their collective power. The New Social Contract for Workers provides the fundamental changes we need to our economic system by centering racial, gender, and economic justice, while empowering working people in our democracy,” said Adam Shah, senior policy analyst at Jobs With Justice.

“The people most marginalized by racial capitalism and corporate exploitation should have the biggest role in dreaming up and enacting the structural changes needed to build an economy that works for all of us. When those targeted by injustice are stakeholders and decision-makers in public policy, we come up with solutions that are bold. We address the root cause of inequality, instead of patching over its effects. The New Social Contract is unapologetic in its ambition to address the root causes of racial and economic inequality. Put simply, the New Social Contract is a model for the future of policymaking,” said Jennifer Epps-Addison, network president and co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy

“Working families are sinking under the weight of costly care and making impossible sacrifices—including their jobs—just to be there for their loved ones. Transformative public policy like universal family care would finally value the care workers who do the work that makes all other work possible, and provide critical support to millions of caregiving families at every stage of life,” said Josephine Kalipeni, director of policy and federal affairs at Caring Across Generations.

The New Social Contract for Workers will be promoted in a series of events across the country as part of The New Social Contract Tour, which kicks off with a Manchester, New Hampshire town hall on Sunday, September 15th.