The Workers Lab Unveils Winners of 2019 Innovation Fund

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Five innovators receive $150,000 each to test new ideas that build power for workers

Today, The Workers Lab announced the winners of its 2019 Innovation Fund, which provides $150,000 to innovators to test new ideas that will build power for workers: Migrant Justice / Justicia Migrante, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL), Co-op Dayton, Working Washington, and New Deal Home Improvement Cooperative.

Since its inception, the Innovation Fund has invested over $2,235,000 in more than 38 projects nationwide. Each Innovation Fund cycle, funds are awarded to entrepreneurs and nonprofit and public sector leaders so they may have the resources to test new ideas and find solutions that meet the needs of 21st Century workers. This fall 2019 Innovation Fund was co-sponsored with the Omidyar Network.

“In this Fall 2019 Innovation Fund contest, we asked innovators for ideas that build power for workers by altering the relationship between working people and the systems and institutions that affect their lives,” The Workers Lab Managing Director, Betsy Edasery, said. The Workers Lab read over ideas from 268 applicants from 14 countries and 28 states across the U.S.

The five Innovation Fund 2019 Fall winners put forward powerful ideas that have the potential to transform the lives of working people and build lasting worker power. Each organization is focused on forging solutions for a specific labor force issue. Migrant Justice / Justicia Migrante’s new Milk With Dignity initiative pays signing farmers a premium to improve working conditions, and CTUL’s new Building Dignity and Respect Standards Council collaborates with major construction developers on a set of worker-enforced labor standards designed to "raise the floor" of the industry.

"We are honored to receive the Innovation Fund award and to have been considered among so many wonderful applicants,” says Enrique Balcazar, Director of Leadership Development at Migrant Justice/Justicia Migrante. “This is an important step in our work to ensure human rights for farmworkers by expanding the model of worker-driven social responsibility to the dairy industry."

“Wage theft, dangerous conditions, and labor trafficking have become all too common in the Twin Cities, MN construction industry,” says Merle Payne, Co-Director of CTUL, “but with support from The Workers Lab, construction workers are ready to fight back in a powerful new way. Innovation Fund funding will facilitate the launch of a new worker-led standard-setting organization which will partner with CTUL to transform the industry. Organizers and worker-leaders on the project are thrilled to be selected for The Workers Lab funding and ready to ramp up this innovative new implementation of the worker-driven social responsibility model.”

Co-op Dayton is building business models that empower workers and address gaps in goods and services that thrive in working class cities like Dayton. Working Washington is coordinating #PayUp, a national campaign comprised of digital gig workers organizing to raise pay and set standards for their industry. New Deal Home Improvement Company is spearheading a sector-based approach to solve industry problems for the renovation market. With a vision to strengthen the solidarity economy, competitors become collaborators.

“We are so thrilled and honored that The Workers Lab has chosen to invest in innovation and experimentation in our Rust Belt city — a place that is truly ready for a new worker-centered economic model,” says Lela Klein, Executive Director of Co-op Dayton. “This support from the Innovation Fund comes at a perfect time, and will allow Co-op Dayton the capacity to leverage the deep community engagement we spent the last four years building around our flagship project and work towards more worker cooperatives that drive equitable reinvestment in our city.”

“We are so grateful for this opportunity The Workers Lab gave us to hone our idea and pitch it with clarity. The experience was truly transformative, “ says Jose Paulino, Business Manager, New Deal Home Improvement Cooperative. “Now we look forward to pivoting from a small home improvement workers co-op to a network to help home improvement workers bring repairs, remodeling, and resilience to scale, centered with worker power and dignity.”

“Working Washington is honored and thrilled to be named a winner of the Workers Lab Innovation Fund competition,” says Rachel Lauter, Executive Director, Working Washington. “This award creates the tremendous opportunity to reboot the gig economy and will help ensure workers’ needs and interests are at the center of the conversation about the Future of Work from now on.”

"We believe that healthy economies, societies, and democracies are only possible when working people are empowered to bargain for good jobs and a fair share of our economic success,” says Tracy Williams, Director, Reimagining Capitalism at Omidyar Network. “We believe these innovations — and the organizations behind them — will build a stronger future for working people will get a fair share of the profits they help produce. That’s the future Omidyar Network believes in — one in which dignified work enables dignified lives.”
Innovation Fund 2020 applications will open on March 2, 2020. To sign up for updates, please visit http://www.theworkerslab.com.

Learn more about the Innovation Fund 2019 winners:

Migrant Justice / Justicia Migrante: Their Milk with Dignity program is transforming the dairy industry, creating enforceable standards for dignified work and housing. Migrant Justice enlists dairy companies to sign legally-binding agreements committing to source from farms that enroll in Milk with Dignity and pay a premium that farmers use to improve conditions. Farms must comply with a worker-authored Code of Conduct that defines dignified treatment in wages, schedules, housing, health and safety, and protection against harrassment, discrimination, and retaliation. Workers are educated on their rights and have access to a complaint line. An independent monitoring body investigates and resolves complaints and conducts audits resulting in time-bound plans to improve conditions.

Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL): CTUL's Construction Campaign has spent the last 2+ years researching the industry, connecting with often-isolated workers and developing their leadership, and cultivating relationships with other stakeholders including building trades unions and the end users of major real estate projects. Their committee of 20 nonunion construction workers has mapped power and explored options, which has given rise to a new organization, the Building Dignity and Respect Standards Council (BDC), which is collaborating with CTUL to bring major developers to the table over a set of worker-enforced labor standards designed to "raise the floor" of the industry, eliminating labor trafficking, wage theft, payroll fraud, unsafe working conditions, identity-based harassment, and the other injustices faced by non-union workers in this shockingly backward industry.

Co-op Dayton: Co-op Dayton was founded by labor, faith, and community coming together to rebuild a blue collar city by supporting business models that empower workers and address gaps in goods and services in our neighborhoods. While traditional businesses have overlooked or strip-mined cities like Dayton, the community- and worker-owned multi-stakeholder cooperatives they are building bring together local residents and workers to identify gaps, activate community assets, and pool resources to build new businesses that help families meet their needs. They are inspired by cities like San Francisco and New York that have developed cooperative ecosystems. They are innovating by building a co-op model that thrives in working class cities like Dayton, smaller cities where ideas spread quickly and where they can iterate and experiment with the advantage of lower cost of living, of property, and a population frustrated with the old and open to something new.

Working Washington: Led by Working Washington, #PayUp is a national campaign comprised of digital gig workers organizing to raise pay and set standards for their industry. Their digital-centered approach has allowed them to build the largest community of app-based delivery workers in the country (more than 10,000 and growing daily), primarily from food or grocery delivery platforms like Instacart, DoorDash, and Postmates. These workers provide data to track shifting pay algorithms, share their stories to garner unprecedented media coverage, and lend their voices to collectively shape the #PayUp policy agenda. Gig workers are calling for: 1) Pay equivalent of at least $15 an hour after expenses, 2) Tips on top of base pay, and 3) A transparent breakdown of pay. The advantage to this approach is that it is winnible in cities across the country, translates seamlessly to corporate campaigns, and it meets gig workers’ immediate needs, fueling organizing in the process.

New Deal Home Improvement Company: Any Green New Deal will include training and development in construction fields. New Deal Home Improvement Cooperative, in collaboration with many players in the large co-op network in New York City, will spearhead a sector-based approach to solve industry problems for the renovation market. Much like traditional labor-management solutions, and with a view to strengthen the solidarity economy, competitors become collaborators. They will share back office systems, skills training for the craft and business, work referrals and a community-based tool lending library. This Center will support the growth and development of small and new companies to compete in the industry using the cooperative business model. The solution will aim to develop a Center for shared support in the industry’s sub-sector, to scale through replication.

About The Workers Lab
The Workers Lab gives new ideas that increase worker power a chance to succeed and flourish through a number of means, including supporting partners and entrepreneurs in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors in experimentation; convening leaders from multiple sectors to develop solutions to the most pressing issues facing workers, and partnering with foundations and investors to double-down on what works. Founded in 2014, The Workers Lab is based in Oakland, California. For more information, please visit http://www.theworkerslab.com.

About Omidyar Network
Omidyar Network is a philanthropic investment firm dedicated to harnessing the power of markets to create opportunity for people to improve their lives. Established in 2004 by philanthropists Pam and Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, the organization has committed more than $1 billion to innovative for-profit companies and non-profit organizations to catalyze economic and social change. To learn more, visit http://www.omidyar.com, and follow on Twitter @omidyarnetwork.

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Ashley Stelling
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