Local governments stepping in to bolster workers’ rights

There has been a surge of action in cities and other localities across the country to advance workers’ rights.

A just released report, issued by EPI, the Harvard Labor and Worklife Program, and Local Progress, provides a comprehensive overview of this local government labor activity, highlighting what cities and other localities have been doing and offering a blueprint of what they can do.

Some examples:

  • 52 localities have enacted their own higher local minimum wages, and 19 have passed paid sick leave laws. Some cities have passed cutting-edge laws requiring predictable scheduling, outlawing arbitrary firings in certain industries, securing pay for independent freelance workers, and protecting workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • At least 20 localities have created or are creating dedicated local labor agencies, including large coastal cities like New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, as well as cities like Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and soon Tucson. 
  • Some cities are requiring high-road or at least legally compliant practices among their contractors by setting prevailing or living wages, or passing responsible bidder ordinances. Others have set up systems under which permits or licenses can be revoked for labor violations.
  • Although some cities are preempted by state law from passing laws, there’s still a lot they can do: educating workers about their rights, providing good jobs to their own municipal employees, setting high standards for contractors and vendors, reporting on local conditions, and showing public support to workers standing up for their labor rights. 

Although many local governments have embraced this new role of looking out for workers, there’s still tremendous untapped potential for more action.