2023-2024 State and Local Policy Agenda

Executive Summary

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Read the full 2023-2024 State and Local Policy Agenda here.

What’s at Stake for Georgia Workers in the U.S. Senate Runoffs

The runoff elections for U.S. Senate in Georgia on January 5, 2021 will determine control of the Senate and affect national policy across a wide range of areas. This fact sheet provides an overview of the likely impact of the Senate races on two key worker issues: access to unemployment benefits during the pandemic-induced recession, and raising the federal minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 per hour. The fact sheet presents data from the Century Foundation and the Economic Policy Institute on the impact on Georgia workers of senators’ policy positions on these issues.

If Senator David Perdue and Senator Kelly Loeffler are elected in January, pandemic unemployment insurance benefits are likely to be restored only to a very limited degree, if it all—and the federal minimum wage is likely to remain frozen at $7.25 per hour, as it has been since 2009. But if Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are elected to the Senate, jobless Georgians are likely to see unemployment benefits restored and extended for more of the pandemic-induced recession. And Georgia workers will be far more likely to see the federal minimum wage increased and gradually phased up to $15 an hour—the first increase in 11 years. The public should find out more about these and other issues critical to Georgians and ask the candidates to discuss their positions to better understand where they stand.


Unemployment Insurance

Figure 1
Source: Century Foundation analysis
  • As the pandemic swept the nation in the spring, Congress approved expanded unemployment insurance (UI) benefits in the CARES Act—including an extra $600 per week to ensure that unemployed Georgians could actually pay their bills, since state UI benefits in Georgia and most of the country are very low.
  • When the $600 per week UI supplement expired in July, Senator Kelly Loeffler and Senator David Perdue sided with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in refusing to extend it, causing UI benefits in Georgia to plummet to just $254 a week for the average unemployed worker—not nearly enough to allow those out of work to pay their bills and put food on the table.
  • Now, even those lower benefits are scheduled to end for many unemployed workers the day after Christmas. The Century Foundation projects that more than 330,000 Georgians will be cut off from this safety net and fall off a financial cliff, unless Congress acts to extend unemployment assistance. That figure includes nearly 147,000 Georgians receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provides assistance to workers who are otherwise shut out of state unemployment benefits, such as gig workers, self-employed persons, church workers, and many part-time workers. It also includes more than 183,000 Georgians receiving Pandemic Extended Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which provides 13 weeks of extended unemployment benefits for workers whose weeks of other jobless aid has run out. See Figure 2.
  • These are conservative projections and could end up being significantly worse for two reasons. First, Georgia’s PUA enrollment alone has remained nearly unchanged for the last three months, with net enrollment hovering at over 200,000. This indicates that employment prospects for gig workers, self-employed persons, church workers, and part-time workers—who are often underemployed—have not improved much at all recently. These working Georgians face a December 26 cutoff from possibly the only income they have left. Second, Georgia’s Department of Labor has yet to release all of its data on PEUC enrollment. Therefore, enrollment may be larger than projected.
Figure 2
Georgia Workers Facing Loss of CARES Act Unemployment Benefits on Dec. 26
Workers on PEUC 183,648
Workers on PUA 146,674
Total 330,322
Source: Century Foundation analysis
  • By putting money in the pockets of 330,000 jobless Georgians to spend on necessities at local businesses, extending unemployment benefits would also stimulate Georgia’s economy and thereby preserve and create jobs in the state, offsetting some of the past year’s losses. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that extending the PUA and PUEC programs until the end of 2021 and restoring the $600 weekly supplement would boost the national economy by 3.5% and create or save 5.1 million jobs across the country—including 144,000 in Georgia.
  • In the past, Mitch McConnell, with the support of Senator Kelly Loeffler and Senator David Perdue, has called for restoring a lower $200 per week unemployment supplement, although they have refused to bring such a package to a vote or pass it.
  • But now with 330,000 Georgians just weeks away from losing their CARES Act unemployment benefits, McConnell’s latest proposal includes no unemployment supplement at all, and would extend benefits for the 330,000 Georgians for just one month through the end of January with an explicit phase out—despite the fact that we have months and months of pandemic and recession still ahead of us.
  • Senators Perdue and Loeffler have been silent about the 330,000 Georgians now facing loss of their CARES Act unemployment benefits on December 26.
  • It is true that some of the unemployed Georgians losing their PEUC CARES Act benefits will be eligible for continued unemployment benefits under Georgia’s State Extended Benefits (EB) program. But EB is a poor substitute for PEUC because of its very restrictive eligibility rules. Only 600,000 jobless workers are on the program nationwide, and it has a number of roadblocks including a rule that excludes unemployed workers who were eligible for regular UI and PEUC, but who worked fewer than 20 weeks before losing their job.
  • Moreover, Georgia must pay the cost of EB benefits for as many as 13 weeks— not the federal government. Senators Perdue and Loeffler appear ready to saddle the state with the heavy cost of paying for those benefits.
  • Senate candidates Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff have both called for extending unemployment benefits and restoring the $600 per week supplement. A Democratic majority in the Senate would be expected to act quickly to approve further pandemic relief, including restoring and extending unemployment benefits.
  • Perdue and Loeffler’s opposition to restoring the $600 per week unemployment supplement and silence about the 330,000 Georgians about to lose CARES Act unemployment benefits come as the pandemic-induced unemployment crisis is hitting Black Georgians much harder than whites. During the pandemic, Black workers have been significantly overrepresented among Georgians losing their jobs and filing for unemployment. In the latest data from October, Black workers made up 63% of workers newly losing their jobs, while they represent just 31% of Georgia’s workforce. And the number of Black workers filing unemployment claims is now 70% higher than that for all other workers combined. See Figure 3.
Figure 3
Source: Century Foundation analysis
  • This stark skew is indicative of persistent impediments that Black workers face in the labor market—including employment discrimination, unequal pay, and occupational segregation in industries hardest hit by the pandemic, such as hospitality, tourism, entertainment, and other service sectors. These longstanding impediments are the reason that unemployment and underemployment among Black workers and other workers of color has often been double that of their white counterparts for decades.

Minimum Wage