In the current uncertain economic environment, U.S. workers face serious threats, from eroding wages and unfair firings to union busting and entrenched occupational segregation based on race and gender. In response, workers are organizing and fighting back. Workers are demanding new policies to strengthen their power, raise labor standards, and crack down on abuses. With the very real prospect of federal gridlock, the best opportunities to advance a pro-worker, pro-equity agenda will likely be at the state and local level. This agenda outlines a range of policy responses that state and local governments are now taking to protect workers. These best practices from across the country provide a roadmap for how legislatures, governors, mayors, and city councils can promote a good jobs economy in the coming years.
- Empower workers to organize unions, collectively bargain, and protect their rights in the workplace.
The unequal power between workers and employers has hurt working families for decades. Increasing the power of workers is essential to create an economy that works for all.
a. Restore worker bargaining power by extending full collective bargaining rights to all workers. Enact state policies protecting union rights and requiring employers to collectively bargain with workers who form unions in public-sector, agricultural, or domestic occupations that otherwise lack coverage under federal labor laws due to longstanding racist exclusions. Repeal existing state bans or constraints on public-sector collective bargaining or strikes;
b. Repeal “right-to-work” laws designed to weaken unions;
c. Ensure all workers have access to unemployment insurance while on strike;
d. Adopt “temp worker bill of rights” laws to give contracted workers employed by temp and staffing agencies the right to refuse assignments as strike breakers.
e. Establish sectoral standards boards with authority to bring employers, workers, and community stakeholders together to set wages and working conditions in essential jobs and sectors with poor working conditions.
f. Leverage state contracting and purchasing power to increase worker power on projects and services funded with public dollars.
- Make effective federal and state pandemic policies permanent.
Important policy responses to the economic impact of the pandemic made the COVID downturn both shorter-lived and less painful for working families than the Great Recession. Many of these measures were temporary but have proven their usefulness and should be made permanent at the state level.
a. Permanently expand unemployment insurance for all workers—including app-based workers, self-employed persons, part-time workers, and undocumented workers;
b. Rebuild unemployment insurance trust funds through progressive employer payroll taxes that shift the burden of financing these vital systems away from small employers and ensure adequate benefits of sufficient duration for workers during the next economic crisis and beyond;
c. Permanently expand paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave;
d. Permanently expand anti-retaliation protections to ensure that worker whistleblowers can speak up about dangerous working conditions and other mistreatment; and
e. Enact state-level fully refundable child tax credits.
- Raise wages and improve job quality to help workers and families thrive.
Bad jobs are a policy choice. Policymakers have tools available to ensure high quality jobs in every state.
a. As the highest inflation in 40 years erodes paychecks and squeezes families, states and cities need to raise the minimum wage well beyond $15, establish automatic annual adjustments so that wages keep up with the cost of living, close sexist and racist labor law exemptions that exclude many workers from the protection of the minimum wage, and restore access to overtime pay, including for farmworkers, education workers, and others who have long been excluded from this basic protection;
b. Fight wage theft and enforce minimum wage laws, overtime laws, and other labor standards and protections. Support co-enforcement models at the local level;
c. Ensure all workers have full labor and employment rights, including rights to organize and bargain, by preventing employers from mislabeling workers as “independent contractors.” Adopt clear and strong legal definitions (e.g., the “ABC test”) for determining employee status. Strengthen state enforcement and penalties for employers who illegally misclassify workers;
d. Protect contracted temp and staffing workers in our fissured economy by adopting temp and staffing agency worker protection laws and issuing clear guidance stating that the businesses that control their work are “joint employers” and thus responsible for their working conditions;
e. Fight forced arbitration requirements and other coercive waivers in employment contracts that prevent workers from enforcing their rights by adopting “qui tam” laws (which give workers or organizations the ability to bring enforcement actions on behalf of the state). Ban noncompete agreements, no-poaching requirements, independent contractor waivers (purporting to waive an individual’s employment status), and COVID-19 liability waivers;
f. Protect workers from abusive workloads and intrusive workplace monitoring and surveillance practices that are causing sky-high worker injury rates, worsening workplace inequities, and magnifying power imbalances between workers and employers;
g. As dangerous heat, fires, flooding, and storms become more frequent, guarantee workers the right to refuse to work under such dangerous conditions or during declared emergencies. Adopt OSHA heat standards and other protections against workplace climate hazards;
h. End arbitrary and retaliatory firings with “just cause” employment protections, replacing the “at-will” system that gives employers inordinate control over workers’ livelihoods. As part of these policies, guarantee all workers severance pay and regulate the growing use of electronic monitoring in the workplace and its use in employee discipline and discharge;
i. Repeal abusive state preemption laws that prohibit cities and counties from enacting additional worker protections like higher minimum wages, rent control, and fair scheduling ordinances;
j. Protect immigrant workers from exploitation by prohibiting retaliation against immigrants who report wage theft and other abuses, preventing employer abuses of the employment verification process, and expanding access to drivers and professional licenses; and
k. Provide public investment to increase wages and improve working conditions for workers in all sectors of the care economy, including residential long-term care facility workers, child care workers, and home healthcare workers.
- Promote equitable access to jobs for Black and Hispanic workers, who are hit hardest by occupational segregation, high unemployment, mass incarceration, and negative effects of COVID-19.
Race-blind policies do not exist. Policymakers need to actively tackle structural racism in every part of society.
a. Promote access to good jobs for Black, brown, and low-income communities by adopting targeted local hiring policies and strong labor standards for publicly funded infrastructure and green economy projects;
b. Fight racial and gender discrimination and occupational segregation with stronger civil rights protections and data gathering;
c. Promote fair hiring for people with arrest or conviction records by adopting fair chance hiring and clean slate reforms (which prevent early disclosure of records in the hiring process and expunge records after a certain period), removing occupational licensing barriers, and ending unfair fees and fines imposed by the criminal justice system for traffic and other violations that trap workers in endless cycles of debt; and
d. Introduce policies to reduce racial disparities in wealth, including Baby Bonds.
- Ensure states and cities have the resources they need to rebuild and sustain high-quality public services.
The pandemic crisis is behind us, but that does not mean that most communities are better off. Schools, hospitals, transit systems, and other public services remain severely weakened by the pandemic’s impact—and in most places, a return to the pre-pandemic status quo is insufficient. We must build a rejuvenated public sector that meets the needs of every community. State policymakers can also do their part to make investments that support green jobs and address climate impacts.
a. Restore the public-sector workforce by increasing compensation for public-sector jobs, especially in public education, and supporting collective bargaining;
b. Address the shortage of teachers and other education staff by fully funding primary and secondary education and raising wages; and,
c. Crack down on wasteful corporate giveaways by granting taxpayer-funded incentives only to businesses and development projects that produce specific, negotiated community benefits such as affordable housing and family-sustaining jobs for local residents.