Roosevelt Institute Launches Future of Work Initiative

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Project Seeks Policy Solutions to Empower Workers in the 21st Century

Organized labor has been in decline for decades, and the middle class has suffered for it. But with a renewed push for higher wages and better working conditions emerging all across the United States, it’s time to discuss how the labor movement can innovate to restore middle-class prosperity. In that spirit, the Roosevelt Institute, in collaboration with the Columbia Program on Labor, Law, and Policy, announces the launch of the Future of Work Initiative, which will convene thought- and action-leaders from multiple fields to re-imagine a 21st century social contract that expands workers’ rights and increases the number of living-wage jobs. Through a series of meetings, policy papers, and a conference, the initiative seeks to generate debate and advance new approaches that empower American workers and promote broadly shared prosperity.

“From fast food strikes to the recent victory of California port truck drivers who sought to be recognized as employees rather than independent contractors, more Americans are seeing the importance of organizing all forms of labor to create fair and just workplaces,” says the Roosevelt Institute’s President and CEO, Felicia Wong. “The Future of Work Initiative is using that momentum to plan the best approaches for this newly revitalized labor movement.”

The initiative kicks off with a white paper from Roosevelt Institute Fellow Annette Bernhardt, “The Role of Labor Market Regulation in Rebuilding Economic Opportunity in the U.S.,” as well as a new report from Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch, “The Future of Work in America: Policies to Empower American Workers and Ensure Prosperity for All.” Soon to follow is a paper on the history of the National Labor Relations Act from Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren.

“Business may have engaged in a form of self-regulation during the heyday of managerial capitalism, but those days are long gone,” says Bernhardt. “The success of a renewed social contract will need to include a renewed commitment to labor market regulation.” She further argues for a series of reforms to labor regulation that would not just protect workers, but encourage the creation of good jobs.

Kirsch considers the shortcomings of current labor policy, such as the National Labor Relations Act’s exclusion of farmworkers, domestic workers, and independent contractors. “This is increasingly important,” he says, “because a growing number of employers are forcing workers – from truck-drivers to adjunct faculty – to be classified as ‘independent contractors.’” Redefining independent contractors based on terms and conditions of employment would mean more people are protected as “workers” under labor laws, which would help “to ensure that every job respects the dignity and value of every worker.”

Annette Bernhardt is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a visiting professor at the UC Berkeley sociology department, and a visiting researcher at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and the author of Fighting for Our Health: The Epic Battle to Make Health Care a Right in the United States, published in February 2012 by the Rockefeller Institute Press. He was the National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now.

Dorian T. Warren is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. He specializes in the study of inequality and American politics.

For more information on the Future of Work Initiative or its associated papers, please contact Rachel Goldfarb at rgoldfarb(at)rooseveltinstitute(dot)org or 212-493-3323.

About the Roosevelt Institute

The Roosevelt Institute is an ideas and leadership organization founded in the belief that America should offer opportunity to all. To develop a new social contract for the 21st century, we advance the work of progressive economists and social policy thinkers and support an emerging generation of leaders as they design solutions to the nation’s most pressing issues.

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Rachel Goldfarb
Roosevelt Institute
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