Over the last 50 years, working people in the United States have been under attack. From union busting in the 1980s to the current gig economy and private equity bleeding entire economic sectors dry, these efforts have made it impossible for most working people to exercise their fundamental right to unite and negotiate with the people who profit from their labor. The fight against working people has also exposed major problems with our system of collective bargaining, including the racist exclusion of agricultural and domestic workers from collective bargaining rights. This systematic exclusion has created an underground economy that disproportionately exploits undocumented immigrants and other vulnerable workers. Colorado Jobs With Justice is committed to building power for workers to create meaningful change to address the exploitation that workers experience, because tinkering with the current system will never be enough. Rather, we must envision bold new frameworks of worker organization and representation, labor law enforcement, and corporate governance to maximize worker power and create a more equitable society.
In recognition of this reality, the Clean Slate for Worker Power initiative is exploring how we can reconstruct labor law in order to bring balance to our economy and politics. Helmed by Sharon Block and Ben Sachs of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, Clean Slate has been a multi-year project engaging with key stakeholders including academics, organizers, advocates, and labor practitioners that will release a comprehensive set of recommendations of needed policy changes in January 2020.
The Clean Slate initiative is focused on changes to be enacted at the federal level. But such changes, especially the bold solutions that workers really need, do not happen in a vacuum, nor are working people waiting for the passage of legal reforms in order to engage in collective bargaining. Indeed, the collective bargaining experiments and campaigns in which working people are already involved must inform the proposals for rethinking labor law. That is why Jobs With Justice has partnered with Clean Slate to support local organizing campaigns aimed at winning innovative pro-worker policies while building power in their communities. The Clean Slate Project and JWJ are overseeing two fellows in Denver and Portland brought on to support these campaigns and connect the local work with the broader Clean Slate project.
As the Denver fellow, I feel very lucky to continue to fight for economic justice in the place that I call home. My fellowship is focused on enforcement of labor standards, particularly on the issue of wage theft. In Colorado, more than $750 million is stolen from workers each year. While there have been some encouraging enforcement developments in the last ten years, they fall well short of providing meaningful relief to the thousands of workers who have their wages stolen each year in Colorado.
As my fellowship goes on, we are working with IUPAT Local 79 and other partners to explore local implementation of ideas that have been identified by the Clean Slate team, including:
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for the oppression built into systems that control workers’ lives. But by building power locally and creating transformative, meaningful changes, we can take the first steps toward change on the scale that the Clean Slate initiative contemplates: creating an economic and political system where workers are valued and empowered.